Supreme Court Summaries
Opinions filed May 23, 2013
In re Parentage of J.W., 2013 IL 114817
Appellate citation: 2012 IL App (4th) 120212.
JUSTICE THEIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.
This litigation concerns J.W., an 11-year-old and living in Danville with her mother and her mother’s second husband, Joe, along with a sibling born of that marriage, and the three children of that second husband, and began when J.W.’s biological father, Steve, sought visitation privileges following a determination of parentage under section 14(a)(1) of the Illinois Parentage Act of 1984.
The mother began an intimate relationship with Jason in the summer of 2001, and J.W. was born in April of 2002. The couple eventually married in 2003. That marriage lasted until 2006, when they divorced. Arrangements were made for the mother to have custody and Jason to have visitation.
In September 2008, the mother married Joe, who already had three children. A few months later, DNA testing determined that J.W. was the biological child of Steve, with whom the mother, unbeknownst to Jason, had a one-time sexual encounter in the summer of 2001. The mother temporarily separated from Joe and moved to the Potomac, where Steve resided, and placed J.W. in school there. The next year, Steve began proceedings to legally establish his parentage, and was ultimately successful, but the mother reunited with her second husband, Joe, and moved back to Danville, where they had a child together.
This Vermilion County litigation arose from Steve’s attempt, as biological father, to have visitation with J.W. His efforts were opposed by Jason, who had been presumed to be J.W.’s father between 2002 and 2008, and who had been awarded visitation rights in the 2006 divorce.
The circuit court ultimately determined that, at that time, it was not in J.W.’s best interests to have visitation with Steve. It relied on section 602(a) of the Marriage Act. Steve appealed and won a reversal in the appellate court, which opined that, under the standard established by section 607(a) of the Marriage Act, the biological but noncustodial parent was entitled to a rebuttable presumption of reasonable visitation unless it could be shown that visitation would seriously endanger the child. The appellate court reversed and remanded for a visitation plan. Jason appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
In this decision, the supreme court reversed the appellate court and affirmed the circuit court, holding that under section 14(a)(1) of the Parentage Act, the initial burden is on the noncustodial parent to show visitation is in the best interests of the child, using the best-interests standard of section 602 of the Marriage Act, and that the circuit court’s decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.