While the allocation of parental responsibilities is typically an issue between divorced, separated, or unmarried parents, grandparents and other family members often play a crucial role in the life of a child. According to Illinois law, grandparents may even petition the court for visitation rights with their grandchildren in certain situations.
It is important to understand that the law presumes that a child’s parent is not only fit but best-suited to make decisions about the child’s life. This includes where, when, and how often the parent allows a grandparent to spend time with the child. If, however, the grandparent can show the court that he or she is being unreasonably denied access to the child and the child’s mental, physical, or emotional health is negatively affected as a result, the court could grant the grandparent visitation privileges.
What if a person has voluntarily terminated his or her parental rights by consenting to his or her child’s adoption? Can grandparents in such a situation still seek visitation rights? According to a ruling by an Illinois appellate court, the answer is no.
A Complicated Situation
The case in question involved a man who terminated his legal parental rights by allowing his child to be adopted by the child’s maternal grandparents. The father maintained that he and the grandparents reached a verbal agreement such that he would still be allowed to spend time with the child on a regular basis. The maternal grandparents, the man claimed, breached the oral contract and prevented him from seeing the child, so he and his own parents petitioned the court to enforce the verbal agreement.
Both the trial court and the appellate court ruled that oral agreement was not and could not be a binding contract under the family law statutes in Illinois. Once a person’s parental rights are terminated—either voluntarily or involuntarily—he or she is considered a “legal stranger” to the child. As such, all legal ties to the former parent’s parents are also severed.
In other words, the former father and his parents did not have the legal standing to request the enforcement of a visitation agreement. The appellate court further clarified that even if the man and his parents were seeking enforcement of the agreement under Illinois contract laws rather than family law statutes, such a contract would not be valid
A Kane County Attorney Can Help
While this particular case may involve a very unusual situation, it demonstrates the uphill battle grandparents may face in pursuit of visitation privileges. If you are a grandparent looking to spend time with your grandchildren and you cannot work out an arrangement with the child’s parents, contact an experienced St. Charles family law attorney. Call 630-377-7770 for a free consultation at Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, P.C. today.