In Your Court: Parentage and visitation don't necessarily go hand in hand
The Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled the petitioner seeking visitation privileges under the Illinois Parentage Act has the initial burden to show visitation is in the child’s best interests.
In 2001, while Amy and Jason dated, Amy had a secret one-night stand with Steve. Amy became pregnant and a child was born. Jason voluntarily acknowledged paternity of the child, and Amy and Jason married soon thereafter. In 2006, Amy and Jason divorced. The court granted Amy sole custody of the child, ordered Jason to pay child support and granted Jason visitation.
In 2008, Amy married Joe. Later that year, Steve and Amy reconnected via social media. While viewing Amy’s online picture albums, Steve noticed the child resembled him. Steve, Amy, and the child submitted to DNA testing, and the results revealed Steve was the child’s biological father. In November 2008, Amy took the child, left Joe, and moved in with Steve. During their stay, Amy told the child and Jason that Steve was the child’s biological father.
In January 2009, Jason filed for temporary custody of the child. Jason and Amy amended the Divorce Judgment and agreed: (i) Amy would not cohabitate with any man to whom she was not married, (ii) the child would have no contact with Steve, and (iii) Amy would stop promoting any parent-child relationship between the child and Steve.
In response, Steve sought to establish paternity of the child and visitation privileges under the Illinois Parentage Act.
The court declared Steve as the child’s father, ordered him to contribute to child support, but barred contact between Steve and the child until a clinical psychologist could determine whether visitation would be in the child’s best interests.
In September 2010, the clinical psychologist testified it was not in the child’s best interest to allow contact between Steve and the child at this time because: (i) the child was 8 years old, (ii) Jason and the child had a strong father-child bond, (iii) the child did not understand that Jason was not the child’s biological father, and (iv) the introduction of another father figure into the child’s life could adversely affect the child academically, emotionally and socially.
At hearing, the trial court denied Steve visitation stating, under the Illinois Parentage Act, Steve had the burden to prove visitation would be in the best interests of the child and he failed to meet that burden. The matter was eventually appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
The case is In Re: Parentage of J.W., 2013 IL 114817.
• Anthony Scifo is a resident of Kane County and an associate attorney with Shaw, Jacobs, Goostree and Associates P.C. in St. Charles, where he concentrates in divorce and family law, personal injury and wrongful death. His goal with this occasional column is to help educate the public regarding the court system and the law. Contact him with general legal questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.