Revised Illinois State Custody Laws Play Out in Court

by | Nov 23, 2018 | Health Featured

One of the most acrimonious child custody battles that has taken place in the state of Illinois brings light to a relatively new aspect of Illinois custody law. Until about two years ago, parenting time and responsibility were referred to by Illinois law in terms of “child custody” and “visitation.” However, in 2016 the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act was revised and the terms “custody” and “visitation” were replaced with “allocation of parenting time and responsibility.”

This new version of the law is applicable in the Watkins case since the case, which initially began in 2008, came to its bitter end in 2018. The proceedings began when Steven Watkins, Jennifer Watkin’s estranged husband and the father of daughter, Sidney, now 11, was shot from behind as he was collecting his daughter from his in-laws’ home for a court-ordered visit. Jennifer Watkins’ grandmother, Shirley Skinner, was convicted of the murder and is serving a 55 year sentence for the crime. Jennifer Watkins and other families were present in the home at the time of the murder.

After the conviction, Sidney’s paternal grandparents, Dale and Penny Watkins, won a court case granting them the right to visits with their granddaughter. However, Jennifer refused to allow the visits to happen and moved Sidney with her to Florida, beyond the reach of local authorities and expedition attempts. When in 2016, Jennifer relocated to Massachusetts she was arrested and Sidney was sent to live with her paternal aunt, Ashley Clement.

Cass County State’s Attorney John Alvarez said he officially asked the court for the permanent placement of Sidney with her aunt because that was the girl’s preference. The ruling, by Judge Hardwick, was based on his opinion that Sidney was being neglected by her mother, as evinced by her refusal to allow visits between the girl and her paternal grandparents.

As per the law, Jennifer will still retain her parental rights of Sidney and will have the right to request modifications to the visitation arrangement granting her twice monthly supervised visits with her daughter and once weekly 15-minute phone calls. Jennifer abstained from fighting the decision as she risked being further stripped of her parental rights in regard to her daughter.

According to the Law Offices of Scott D. Rogoff, P.C., depending on the age of the child, custody orders are sometimes modified at the request of the child, as was partly the case in the Watkins situations, if it also in the best interest of the child’s physical and emotional health.

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