Visitation Rights in Illinois: FAQ

Get answers to frequently asked questions about how Illinois law handles parents’ visitation rights with their kids.

By , Retired Judge
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Lawmakers in Illinois—as in most other states—have come to realize how valuable it is for children to maintain close, continuing bonds with both of their parents after divorce. That's part of the reason Illinois law uses the term "parenting time" instead of "visitation," as a way of recognizing the significance of this parent-child time. Read on to get answers to some of the most common questions about visitation and parenting time in Illinois.

How do visitation and child custody work in Illinois?

There are two basic aspects to child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody (known in Illinois as "significant decision-making responsibility") refers to parents' rights to make the important decisions about their children's lives. Physical custody—or parenting time—deals with the time the child spends with each parent, as well as where the child primarily lives.

Usually, parents will agree to a joint parenting plan that details how they'll allocate legal and physical custody. But if they can't agree, a judge will decide on a plan that will serve the child's best interests. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/602.10 (2023).)

The parent who has the child more than 50% of the time will be designated as the custodial parent. That designation may be necessary for school enrollment or other purposes, but it won't affect the parental rights and responsibilities of the other parent (often called the "noncustodial parent"). (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/606.10 (2023).)

Learn more about child custody laws in Illinois, including parenting plans and how judges make custody decisions.

What are parents' visitation rights in Illinois?

In Illinois, all parents—fathers and mothers alike, whether or not they have significant decision-making responsibility—are entitled to reasonable parenting time unless it would seriously endanger the child's mental, moral, or physical health, or significantly impair the child's emotional development. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/602.8(a) (2023).)

The right to parenting time applies to parents who have established their parentage under Illinois law. Those who are or were married to their child's other parent generally don't need to take any steps to do this. But unmarried fathers won't be able to seek parenting time until they've established their paternity, usually by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form, requesting an administrative paternity order (from Illinois Child Support Services), or filing a paternity action in court.

When may judges restrict visitation rights in Illinois?

As mentioned above, Illinois law has only a narrow exception to parents' visitation rights—when it would be seriously dangerous or harmful for a child to spend time with a parent. But even when that's the case, judges will often set restrictions or conditions on visitation rather than denying it entirely.

For instance, when a parent has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, the judge may prohibit that parent from drinking or being under the influence during parenting time. And when a parent has a history of domestic violence or child neglect, the judge may require that someone else supervise visitation. In certain cases, a trusted family member or friend might be allowed to chaperone the visits. But if the risk to the child is significant enough, the judge may require that the supervised visitation take place in an approved facility with trained personnel present to ensure the child's safety.

Still, judges may deny parenting time in some situations, such as when it would be traumatic for a child to spend time with an abusive parent, even in a safe setting.

Can children refuse visitation in Illinois?

In Illinois, as in most other states, children aren't allowed to disobey an order for parenting time until they're 18 years old or are otherwise legally emancipated.

When children refuse visitation, custodial parents' must do everything in their power to get the kids to cooperate. Trying to put the blame on the children won't work. Illinois courts have held that custodial parents may not disregard parenting time requirements just because their children don't want to visit the other parent. (In re Marriage of Charous, 855 N.E.2d 953 (Ill. Ct. App. 2006).)

Of course, all parents know how hard it can be to get teenagers to do something they absolutely refuse to do. Judges know this as well, which is why parenting plans might need to be adjusted as children get older or the parents' circumstances change.

If your current parenting plan isn't working anymore, you and the other parent could agree on changes. But the judge will have to approve your agreement and incorporate it into a new court order. If you can't reach an agreement, your only option may be to seek a court-ordered modification of the existing parenting plan.

Do grandparents and other relatives have a right to visit their grandchildren in Illinois?

Illinois law doesn't give grandparents a legal right to have contact with their grandchildren. When parents have cut off that contact, grandparents—as well as the siblings and stepparents—may request visitation, but only in limited circumstances. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/602.9 (2023).)

(Learn more about grandparents' visitation in Illinois.)

Will a parent's move with a child affect the other parent's visitation rights?

All adults have a constitutional right to move. But custodial parents in Illinois may have to get court permission before moving with their children. And noncustodial parents may need to go to court to try to prevent the other parent from changing the child's residence

The bottom line is that when a parent is planning to move a relatively significant distance, it can impact a current parenting time arrangement. If the parents can't work it out between themselves, it will be up to the court to approve or disapprove the move and make any changes to the existing parenting plan. (Learn more about how Illinois handles a parent's relocation request.)

What if a parent is violating visitation orders?

When either parent has abused or violated parenting time, the other parent may file a petition requesting enforcement of the court-approved parenting plan. Judges have a number of tools at their disposal to enforce visitation orders in Illinois, including requiring makeup parenting time or ordering the "guilty" parent to pay the other's attorney's fees and expenses for seeking enforcement.

Is visitation linked to child support?

No. The right to parenting time is a separate issue from the legal obligation to support a child. So if you're a custodial parent, you aren't allowed to withhold visitation because your child's other parent isn't keeping up with child support payments. And if you're a noncustodial parent, you may not stop paying support because you're being denied parenting time.

How can you get help with parenting time problems?

Parenting time issues are some of the most common problems parents face during and after a divorce. It's always best to agree on a parenting plan (or problems with an existing plan), either on your own or with the help of mediation. If you haven't already done that as part of your divorce or other custody proceeding, the judge will order you to participate in mediation unless there are "impediments" to that process (such as in cases of domestic violence). (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/602.10(c) (2023).)

Without an agreement on your dispute, it can be difficult to navigate the legal system on your own, follow all of the court rules, and win a battle in court over parenting time and visitation problems. So you should strongly consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney in Illinois who can evaluate your situation and explain the best way forward.

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