There are many different kinds of families. Grandparents in Illinois and the rest of the United States are playing increasingly important parts in the lives of their grandchildren. In some cases, a grandparent fulfills the role of primary caretaker for their grandchildren. But what rights do grandparents have when they look to take on such responsibilities?
Legal Authority to Make Decisions
When grandparents become involved in raising their grandchildren, they need to make sure they have the legal authority to make crucial decisions about concerns such as health care and education. Without the proper authority, a grandparent may not even be authorized, for example, to sign a permission slip for a school field trip.
There are a variety of ways for a grandparent to obtain the necessary authority. The legal parents could grant the grandparent or grandparents guardianship of the children. Alternatively, grandparents could petition the courts to be the child’s guardian. Guardianships may work well in both short-term situations as well as for longer periods of time. A guardianship does not terminate or limit the rights of the legal parents, and may be revoked by the legal parents or the court.
In rare cases, including the death of the child’s primary parent, a grandparent can petition a court for the allocation of parental responsibilities. Formerly known as child custody, being granted parental responsibilities under the law would provide the grandparent the significant decision-making authority.
Whatever route is chosen, it is important to be sure that that all required legal formalities are carefully followed. A letter from a parent to the grandparent is not enough to provide the grandparent legal authority over the child’s welfare.
Often, children are only temporarily left with their grandparents, but the bond that forms can be strong and important to the development of the children. There are no presumed visitation rights for grandparents in Illinois. However, the state does recognize that grandparents may have the right to seek the privilege of visitation. Custody evaluators are often sensitive to the importance of grandparents in the lives of the grandchildren, especially when the grandparents have been the primary caretakers for a lengthy period of time.
Grandparents should make every effort to work with the parents and a skilled lawyer to help get a regular visitation schedule when appropriate. However, the law begins with the presumption that the parents’ decisions about grandparent visitation are in the child’s best interest unless shown otherwise.
In some cases, the best route for grandparents is to legally adopt their grandchildren. Adoption gives them all the rights of parents and eliminates the need for other temporary or complex arrangements.
If the biological parents do not consent to the adoption, the grandparents may seek to have the parental rights terminated. Doing so can be very painful for a family. The courts are charged with making these kinds of decisions in the best interest of the children. Courts are not usually inclined to terminate parental rights. However, there are several grounds for the termination of parental rights such as abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
For answers to your questions about the rights of grandparents, contact an experienced Orland Park family law attorney. We will help you understand your role and the various options that may be available to you. Call 708-518-8200 to schedule your free initial consultation today.