Decision ends grandparent visitation law

Friday, April 19, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Grandparents and the government cannot interfere with a parent's decisions about raising children except under extraordinary circumstances, the Illinois Supreme Court said Thursday in a ruling that strikes down the state's "grandparent visitation" law.

The law let grandparents sue for the right to visit their grandchildren.

The court ruled more than a year ago that the law was unconstitutional when both parents were alive to make decisions about whether to let their children visit grandparents.

That left open the question of what was allowed when one of the parents has died and the other wants to limit visits. Grandparents argued the courts essentially can step in for the dead parent and settle the dispute.

But the Supreme Court disagreed. It ruled that a single parent has full authority to make decisions about raising children and the courts have no business getting involved unless a child's health or safety is in danger.

"Parents have the constitutionally protected latitude to raise their children as they decide, even if these decisions are perceived by some to be for arbitrary or wrong reasons," Justice Thomas Fitzgerald wrote for the majority.

Justice Rita Garman agreed but argued against striking down the entire law. She offered a scenario where children might be raised by someone other than their parents, giving the grandparents more standing to demand visitation.

AARP, an advocacy group for older people, said it was disappointed by the ruling. The group supports laws that give grandparents visitation rights when it is in a child's best interests, said AARP attorney Rochelle Bobroff.

The ruling overturns trial court decisions in two similar disputes, one from Cook County and one from Kankakee County. In both cases, a surviving spouse limited former in-laws' visits with their grandchildren.

The trial courts granted more visits, arguing they were in the children's best interests.

Attorney Michael Goldberg represents Paul Michael Byrne, whose former mother-in-law sued for longer, unsupervised visits with his daughter. He said his client applauds the Supreme Court ruling.

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