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No visitation, no drive: Illinois law honors slain dad

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Steven Watkins Memorial Act into law in August, giving Watkins' family a victory in a hard-fought legislative battle. The law gives family court judges the power to revoke the driver's license of a custodial parent if that parent refuses to allow court-ordered visits of the children and the noncustodial parent.

We wrote about the bill and the Watkins case in April and May 2011. Steven Watkins' estranged wife and her family had put him off many times in spite of a court order when, in November 2008, he went to visit the couple's daughter. Watkins was shot to death at the home of his wife's grandparents, where his wife and daughter had been staying. His wife's grandmother is currently serving a 55-year prison sentence for his murder. His wife has continued to block the girl's scheduled, court-ordered visits with Watkins' parents.

What the Watkins family and other noncustodial parents wanted was a meaningful way to penalize custodial parents who violate visitation orders. But critics of the law say there are other remedies available and question the constitutionality of the law's connection of visitation to driving.

A member of the Illinois Bar Association's Family Law Section explained that judges can enforce visitation rights in a number of ways, including the threat of jail for contempt of court. Prosecutors can file criminal charges against the custodial parents, and noncustodial parents can file civil complaints against them. The problem is not that there are not remedies, according to the bar association. The problem is that courts seldom take advantage of them.

As for the constitutional question, the bar association maintains that visitation is simply not related to driving privileges. Other critics doubt that the new law's license suspension and accompanying $500 fine would have prevented Watkins' murder.

For Watkins' parents, the law stands as a memorial to their son and a warning to others. With the governor's signature, they can turn their full attention back to their own fight to spend time with their granddaughter -- as ordered by the court.

Source: The Illinois Times, "Parents behaving badly," Bruce Rushton, Aug. 30, 2012

Our firm helps custodial and noncustodial parents with visitation and custody matters. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please go to our Illinois child custody page.

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