Several current trends have contributed to more involvement by grandparents in their grandchildren’s lives than in previous generations.
In families where both parents work, some parents may find it impossible to juggle their own work schedules and their children’s needs. Grandparents who live close by can provide essential help. If the parents’ schedules involve business travel, a grandparent’s visit can smoothly bridge the time that a parent is away, while building lifelong bonds between child and grandparent. Divorce can also complicate grandparents’ rights to see their grandchildren.
A parent’s extended illness may require that a grandparent live in the home or let children stay with them while a parent recuperates. Increasingly, opioid addiction has required that grandparents step in to parent their grandchildren, either temporarily or permanently. Whatever the reason, grandparents raising children will find that they are part of a growing group.
“In 2014, the Census Bureau reported that 6 percent of American households contained a co-resident grandparent and grandchild; in 1970, that figure was 3 percent. Sixty percent of those households were headed by grandparents, which translated to 2.7 million grandparents caring for grandchildren; a 7 percent rise from 2009, PBS NewsHour reported in 2016.” The New Republic, 1/8/2018
What are your visitation rights as a grandparent?
When a family is in turmoil, grandparents may be prevented from seeing their grandchildren. This can cause harm to the children, especially when they have formed a strong bond with their grandparents.
In Illinois, grandparents have a limited right to visit their grandchildren. At least one of the following conditions needs to be in place for court-ordered visitation to occur:
- The child’s parents are divorced or have legally separated, and at least one parent does not object to grandparents’ visiting.
- The child’s parents are unmarried and not living together.
- The child’s parent is declared to be legally incompetent to care for the child, is deceased, has been missing for at least three months, or has been in jail for at least three months.
Grandparents can file a petition to allow visitation once the child is one year old. Grandparents bear the burden of proving that the children will be harmed if the grandparents are barred from visiting.
Even after visitation rights are established, grandparents cannot interfere with the child’s visits with their parents.1
When visitation is not enough
In some cases, visitation alone is not enough, and grandparents must petition the court for custody of the grandchildren and perhaps to legally adopt them. Long military deployments, addiction, mental illness, and other wrenching personal difficulties may cause a grandparent to file for custody.
One way to get custody of grandchildren is through voluntary relinquishment.In this case both parents give up custody of their children and the grandparents step in. Sometimes this occurs when a parent is too young to raise the child alone.
In cases of child abuse, the court may award custody of the children to the grandparents. In Illinois this transfer of custody is overseen by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Until 2003, DCFS prevented guardians over 65 from obtaining custody, but today age is no longer regarded as an impediment. DCFS may also grant grandparents the right to raise the child while DCFS retains legal guardianship. In another arrangement, known as “Private Subsidized Guardianship,” grandparents gain permanent legal guardianship. But this normally only occurs when it is clear that the biological parents and child can never be reunited.2
In the end, the deciding factor in both visitation and custody cases is, what is best for the child? 3
Should I seek custody of my grandchildren?
Taking on parenting responsibilities will fundamentally change your life. Before seeking custody, ask yourself the following:
- What legal documentation will I need to establish the need for custody?
- Is my house big enough to accommodate everyone?
- What is my relationship with the children’s parents, and what will it be in the future?
- Do I have the financial means to raise the children?
- How will I accommodate the children’s routines?
Preparing to seek custody of grandchildren
If you do decide to apply for custody of your grandchildren, there are many things to consider. Of course, sometimes there is an urgency to take your grandchildren into your home immediately since the first priority is always to make sure that the children are safe. That means they need a comfortable, secure place to stay, good food to eat, and medical care. Once these immediate needs are satisfied, here are a few tips to help you in the future.
Gather the documents you’ll need and make them easily accessible.
- Create a binder for the important documents to store documents that you’ll need to refer to often, such as:
- Birth certificates, social security numbers, dental and medical records and citizenship papers
- Power of attorney, custody and other legal papers
- School papers, report cards and registration records
- Proof of your grandchild’s income (any child support, trust fund, etc.)
Take good notes about everything.
- Before and after you gain custody, you’ll need to keep careful records, not only to remember what you have said and done, but also as back-up should legal issues arise. When you talk to anyone, now or in the future, write down the following:
- Name and phone number of the person, what organization they’re from, and time and date of the call
- Other contact information (address, email, etc.)
- Key points of the conversation
- Actions agreed to during the call, and any follow-up needed
- Get to know the people that are important in your grandchildren’s lives; they will be valuable information sources going forward. Building relationships with them can help create continuity for the children in the midst of great change.
- Talk with the following people involved with your grandchild:
- Teachers, doctors, dentists and babysitters
- Friends of your grandchildren and their friends’ parents
- School social workers and child welfare professionals
- Ask all of the above to share their knowledge of your grandchild’s situation and to recommend helpful resources.
- Inquire about important schedules such as school work and medical deadlines so that you won’t be unpleasantly surprised.
- Find out if they know of other people it would be helpful to talk to. 4
Grandparents are stepping in at a critical time
The opioid addiction crisis has placed serious demands on grandparents and other family members. Increasingly, relatives are filling the void for children whose parents have overdosed, are in jail, are in treatment or using drugs. Much of the time these relatives are grandparents, and this may be because they are the ones most likely to have the financial means, a home that is paid for and large enough to accommodate additional occupants, and the time needed to raise children. The fact is, grandparents are often the most suitable parental substitutes for all of these reasons.
Helpful resources for grandparents raising grandchildren
It really does take a village to raise children – especially those who may have been traumatized by circumstances that are out of their control. Here are some resources for information and support that are available to you at no extra cost and created specially to help grandparents and the children they care for.
This non-profit group provides helpful factsheets on national and state organizations including state agencies, support groups, public benefits, tax credit information, legal information, and more. http://www.grandfamilies.org/State-Fact-Sheets
AARP’s “Grandfamilies Guide”
Another useful tool for helping you get started. https://www.aarp.org/relationships/friends-family/info-08-2011/grandfamilies-guide-getting-started.html
AARP also hosts an online support community called Raising Grandchildren, which is free for AARP members. https://www.aarp.org/online-community/
You might also contact your local YWCA/YMCA and your community’s public library to see what programs are available through them.
Here are some blogs you might like to check out:
- Grandparents raising Grandchildren – https://www.grandparentingblog.com/
- Addicts Kids– http://addictskids.com/grandparents-raising-grandkids/
- Grand Magazine– https://www.grandmagazine.com/
Hope you find this useful. If you are thinking of seeking custody of your grandchildren or are already raising them, please feel free to contact us if there is any way we can help you.
Until then – good luck and God bless!