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What Rights Do Grandparents Have After a Divorce?


Published on September 10th, 2021

Many grandparents play a vital role in the lives of their grandchildren, so it’s normal that they might worry how their child’s divorce could affect that relationship. Parents generally have the right to control who visits their children, including in divorce. If you’re a grandparent who is on good terms with both parents, seeing your grandchildren may not be a concern. But problematic family relationships sometimes get in the way of a grandparent’s desire to spend time with the grandkids, and having that relationship cut off can be devastating.

The dissolution of a marriage doesn’t necessarily change or limit your access to your grandchildren, but it can make seeing them more complicated. The best-case scenario is for the parents and grandparents to come up with a visitation schedule without input from the courts. However, a messy divorce in which parents aren’t on speaking terms or one of them relocates with the children can certainly put a strain on the relationship one or more grandparents have built over the years.

To boost their chances, grandparents who have been cut off from the family may need the assistance of an attorney to file a formal request for visitation. In determining whether to grant the grandparent’s request, a judge may consider:

  • To what extent you are a part of your grandchild’s life;
  • Whether you have called, visited, or spent time with your grandchildren in the past;
  • How close you are to your grandchild; and
  • Whether your grandchildren enjoy spending time with you.

Rights of Grandparents Are Limited and Subject to Petition

Legally, there is no inherent right of grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren, regardless of the couple’s marital status. Visitation is considered a privilege, but you do have the right to file a petition for your request to be granted. An experienced family law attorney can advise you as to what your options are and walk you through the petition process. Once grandparents obtain visitation rights through the courts, their visitations will typically be under the supervision of the child’s parent or guardian.

Visitation Privileges for Grandparents Recognized in Illinois

The state of Illinois does recognize the absolute right of grandparents to have court-ordered privileges to visit their grandchildren. A judge will consider multiple factors when deciding whether to grant a request, including the rights of the children and what is in their best interests. A court may be more likely to award you visitation rights if a parent previously refused to allow such a visit without a valid reason for doing so. Common factors the courts may consider include:

  • How far you live from the parents;
  • Your lifestyle;
  • Risk factors such as drug or alcohol abuse;
  • The wishes of the grandchild;
  • How attached the child is to their parents as well as grandparents; and
  • Reasons the parents have refused a visitation from the grandparents in the past.

The Devil Is in the Details

If the two sides can’t agree on a visitation schedule, a court may create a visitation schedule based on the desires of all parties involved: parents and grandparents, as well as children. In determining what the terms will be, the grandchild’s interests are paramount and may receive more weight than the wishes of their parents.

Once your request is granted, you should be allowed to visit your grandchild. There may be some caveats, however. For instance, your visitation schedule will likely be set up by the court with input from the parents. The agreement may stipulate details such as which home the visit will take place in and which days you’ll be allowed visitation. Similar input may be needed to determine whether you see your grandchildren on birthdays or holidays.

Grandparents May Petition for Child Custody Rights

In rare cases, grandparents will petition the courts for allocation of parental responsibilities (formerly known as custody) of their grandchildren. This typically occurs in extreme circumstances – for example, if both parents are deceased, they have been deemed unfit, are incarcerated, or the parents voluntarily relinquished their role as parents.

Perhaps you haven’t discussed the matter with your family and are merely concerned about what will happen following the divorce. In this case, it often helps to tell the child’s parents how you feel first. Try to keep the lines of communication open so you can establish some ground rules together for future visits. If the parents understand that you miss your grandchild and plan to respect the boundaries of everyone involved, they may be more sympathetic and willing to work out an arrangement.

If you plan to file a petition, reach out to one of the licensed attorneys at Davis Friedman promptly so we can help ensure the best interests of you and your grandchild are met. Call us today and we will make sure you stay prepared every step of the way.

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