If you listen to WBBM and maybe some other stations, you’ll hear ads from attorney Jeffery M. Leving about the visitation interference law I shepherded through the Illinois House.
After my daughter was taken by her mother in 1983, I convinced my friend State Rep. Penny Pullen to introduce a bill to help non-custodial parents enforce their visitation rights.
There was only one time that I wasn’t able to see my two-year old when the court order said I had visitation rights, but that one time gave me a real understanding of how helpless and frustrated, even enraged, non-custodial parents feel when their expectation of seeing their child is denied.
During the 1980’s the State Police had a program they called I-SEARCH. It helped parents find missing children. It was unsuccessful in my case.
In dealing with a Sergeant Skinner (no relation), I learned that most calls came from parents who were complaining about missing visitation.
Because there was nothing in the Criminal Code referring to visitation interference, the State Police could offer no help to calling the 800 number.
Remembering that, the bill (House Bill 2529) was drafted to make it a crime not to provide court ordered visitation. A Class A misdemeanor, to be specific.
Divorce lawyers and state’s attorneys actively opposed the idea.
“Contempt of court was good enough,” both argued.
The problem, from the point of view of one in divorce court, was that cost money. An attorney pretty much had to make your argument for a contempt finding.
With my suggested approach, the aggrieved parent could go to the local police department and make a complaint.
So I convinced Penny to refuse to go the route of strengthening the contempt of court route suggested by opponents.
A police report revealed that was invoked in Harvard recently:
UNLAWFUL VISITATION INTERFERENCE
On 11-10-13 at 1431 hrs Brandon M. Smith (m/ 29 yoa) was cited for Unlawful Visitation Interference after he refused to exchange custody of his child with the child’s mother per a court order. He was given a court date of 12-16-13 at 0830 hrs.
Those opposed to the bill said it was unfair to subject a parent to jail time for not complying with a visitation order. Who would take care of the children if the parent was taken to jail and, worse, if the parent couldn’t make bail, but had no one to take care of the kids?
Those were good questions, I thought.
The counter offer was to make it a petty offense the first two times.
Since the goal of the bill was to obtain visitation for the non-custodial parent, that was fine.
Only on a third offense would it become a Class A misdemeanor.
The divorce lawyers weren’t finished.
They wanted an affirmative defense that the offending parent “believed that physical harm to the child was imminent” before concealing the child.
Since that did not involve removing the language from the Criminal Code, the idea was accepted.
Apparently, making the violation a petty offense still might require the custodial parent to leave her or his children, so a third amendment make it a ticket offense.
No problem, as long as it stayed in the Criminal Code.
And, as you can see from the situation in Harvard, the offending parent has a court date.
Pullen got bi-partisan support. Margie Parcells was the joint sponsor and Tom McCracken, Sam Vinson, Robert Terzich, Doug Hugg and Ellis Levin were co-sponsors. The first four were Republicans, the latter four Democrats.
The bill passed the House. In the Senate Babe Woodward of Eastern Illinois was the sponsor. (He and his wife allowed me to stay in their home one night while I was running a shoestring campaign for State Comptroller against Roland Burris in 1982.)
I had a full-time job as Manager of the Bureau of Benefits in the Department of Central Managements Services, but was fortunate enough to have a driven parent who had had visitation enforcement problems and the time available to bird dog the bill there in the Senate.
Jeff Strang was his name. He was from White Hall.
He made sure there were witnesses and contacted State Senators on behalf of the bill.
When it came up on the floor, Woodward was respected enough to gain passage.
So why run this story on Thanksgiving.
It’s a holiday and some parents who have a court order saying they should be seeing their children may have been denied that right.
I figure this might help them or others in similar situations on other visitation days.