We are continuing our discussion of an appellate case from a different state. It is important to remember that Illinois courts are not bound by decisions from other states, but they can still look to other states' opinions for guidance, especially on new or emerging issues.
In Illinois and every other state, child custody issues are governed by the "best interest of the child" doctrine. And, just as every family is unique, every custody decision is decided on a unique set of facts. Statutes and case law provide some guidance on what factors a court should consider, but there is no such thing as a "rubber stamp" custody decision. Each family court must weigh the evidence in each case to determine what will be the best situation for that child.
Some of the most difficult child custody decisions revolve around children who have lost their parents to a sudden tragedy. In such cases, it is possible that the parents' will specifies who they preferred to have legal responsibility for raising the child or children been left behind. In the absence of such that, however, it can be left for a court to make the child custody decision in the best interest of the child.
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.
In a high-profile Illinois case, the parents of a murder victim are continuing their fight for access to their grandchild. Their son and his ex-wife had been to court themselves to settle visitation matters, and it was during one of those court-ordered visits that the ex-wife's grandmother shot and killed the man. This visitation battle has crossed state lines and landed the ex-wife in jail.