A tragic 2008 killing prompted lawmakers in Illinois to amend the law to try to ensure that parents who interfere with noncustodial parents’ visitation time suffer consequences. The Steven Watkins Memorial Bill, named for the man shot by his estranged wife’s mother when he went to pick up his daughter for a visit, provides a variety of penalties for those who interfere with court-ordered visitation, but not everyone agrees that the bill is the solution to the problem of visitation interference.

Current Illinois Law on Visitation Interference

At present, a noncustodial parent has two options if the custodial parent is not following a court-ordered visitation schedule. The first is to report the visitation interference to the police, as it is a crime, and the State Attorney’s office could then prosecute the parent who is interfering. However, many parents report that the police consider this a petty crime and refuse to enforce the law.

The second option for the noncustodial parent is to file a petition for civil contempt and ask for a modification of the visitation order, compensatory visitation, supervised visitation or any other equitable remedy the court deems just. The success that parents have using this method is inconsistent around the state and often results in judges merely dismissing the cases.

Changes the Bill Proposes

The proposed legislation would bring the penalties for visitation abuse in line with those for failure to pay child support. The bill calls for suspending driver’s and professional licenses of offending parents, as well as fines of $500 for each instance of visitation interference. If the court finds a parent in contempt for visitation interference and the parent commits another offense, the bill allows courts to order the parent to jail or to post a $5,000 bond — which the parent would lose if he or she committed another offense — to ensure compliance with the court-ordered visitation schedule in the future.

The Illinois House of Representatives passed the bill on March 2011, and the Senate is currently considering the bill.

Opponents of The Legislation

Not everyone is in favor of the bill. The Secretary of State’s office, which currently teams with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to suspend driver’s licenses of those who are delinquent in child support payments, issued a statement opposing the legislation for fear of the expanding role of the office in enforcing the law turning the office into an arm of the police force, unnecessarily burdening the office.

Some domestic abuse activists also oppose the bill, fearing that it could be used as a weapon against custodial parents who are trying to protect children from having to be with noncustodial parents who are abusive.

Emotions run high when a family breaks apart after a divorce, often causing people to behave spitefully. However, there comes a point when acting on hard feelings crosses the line into criminal action. If you are experiencing difficulties with visitation, do not hesitate to contact an experienced family law attorney who can discuss your situation with you and advise you about your options.