You Be the Judge: A Grandmother’s Rights

A woman argues that she had a right to see her grandson, but her daughter claims she tried to “take over” during visits. You be the judge.

grandmother holding grandchild's hand
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All Cindy Flynn wanted was to spend time with her grandson. But the baby’s mother, Alice Henkel, saw things differently.

The focus of their battle was Alice’s young son, Elias, born in May 2003. Alice wasn’t married to Elias’s father, Cindy’s son Cory, who was serving time in an Illinois state prison for the second time on a drug-related charge. Alice and her newborn had moved into her mother’s home.

Before her grandson’s birth, Cindy had sent items for the baby to Alice and tried to contact her, but Alice never responded. When Cindy heard about Elias’s birth, she sent Alice a card. A month went by before Cindy got a call from Alice’s mom, inviting her over to see the baby. After that, Cindy and her husband, Mike, began visiting Elias once a week.

Alice wasn’t happy about the arrangement. She claimed to find Cindy very intimidating and said she ignored her wishes. It bothered Alice, for instance, that Cindy once referred to herself as Nana, a name she used with her goddaughter. Alice requested that she be called Grandma Cindy, and she felt disrespected when her wishes were ignored.

In June, Cindy and Mike joined the Henkel family at the baby’s Catholic baptism. But the situation deteriorated that summer, when Cory, who had been released from prison, filed a petition in family court for visiting privileges with his son. Alice felt Cory wasn’t the kind of person Elias could respect when he got older and wanted him out of the baby’s life entirely.

Upset by Cory’s court filing, she decided to call Cindy and tell her she couldn’t visit Elias anymore. When the child was barely seven months old, Alice got a court order requiring supervision anytime Cory saw his son. Cindy asked the court if she could be the supervisor for the visits, but the court refused. After that, Cindy could see Elias only when Cory was present.

Initially, visits were at Sinnissippi, a nearby behavioral health-care facility. A staff person had to be present in the four-by-four-foot room, the space allocated for the visits. Cory resented having to see his son there, and when the venue was switched to Alice’s mother’s house, Cindy stopped accompanying him. She didn’t want to deal with the growing tension between her and Alice.

It wasn’t until January 2006, when Elias was two and a half, that Cindy got permission for four visits with her grandson over a two-month period. Cindy then asked to have an hour each month with Elias but she was refused.

Finally, the two women found themselves before a judge in the county circuit court. Cindy argued that she had a right to see her grandson and that Elias would benefit from the visits. “I just want to be part of Elias’s life,” Cindy told the circuit court. “He deserves it.”

Alice disagreed. She said she didn’t see why it was important for Cindy to be involved in Elias’s life. She pointed out that Cindy had chosen not to attend all the allowed supervised visits with her son.

Alice also had a problem with Cindy’s nondenominational Christian beliefs, ever since Cindy, in her words, “changed her life and started serving the Lord.”

Alice added that Cindy tried to “take over” during visits and that Cindy had undermined her as a parent by questioning her decision to have tubes placed in Elias’s ears because of chronic ear infections.

Finally, Alice said she didn’t see how keeping Cindy from seeing Elias would be harmful to the child.

Should Cindy have the right to see her grandson? You be the judge.

Next: The Verdict »

grandmother holding grandchild's hand
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The Verdict:

Grandparent visitation laws vary from state to state. Under Illinois law, a grandparent who wants to see her grandchild regularly must show that a parent’s actions and decisions to deny visits are harmful to the child’s mental, physical or emotional health.

The circuit court held that Cindy’s voluntary visits with Elias didn’t create any problems and that Alice had tried to let a “natural relationship develop.” It was only after Cory filed his petition for visitation rights with the family court that Alice stopped Cindy from visiting her grandson. According to the circuit court, this showed that Alice’s denial of visitation was “merely retaliatory and punitive and patently unreasonable.”

The court also found that all other grounds for denying visitation rights to Cindy were unreasonable. Alice said she found Cindy “very intimidating” and didn’t like to be around her. Alice and her mother testified that Cindy didn’t show respect for Alice as a parent, yet they had few specific examples that warranted Alice’s decision to keep Cindy away from her grandson.

In addition, Cindy convinced the court that Alice’s refusal to let her visit Elias was harmful to the child. The injury was “not something that you can put in the sense of a direct emotional harm,” the court said, but Elias would be hurt by never knowing a grandparent who loved him.

The court ruled that as long as Elias’s relationship with Cindy does not undermine his relationship with his mother, Cindy has a right to see her grandson. Alice appealed the ruling, but the higher court confirmed the decision. Cindy now visits with Elias once a month for three hours at a time, unsupervised.

Alice is appealing the decision to the state supreme court.

Was justice served? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

These children’s rights aren’t universal, but really should be. 

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest