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May 29, 2012 – Success! - Illinois Legislature Says Visitation Interference Matters in Child Custody Cases

This past Saturday the Illinois House echoed the message sent several weeks earlier by the Senate in passing SB3823.  Informally known as the Steve Watkins Memorial Act, SB3823 which passed the House unanimously instructs the courts to take visitation denial seriously.  The new law allows judges to suspend drivers’ licenses, assess fines, order make-up time, establish performance bonds and incarcerate individuals who deny children their relationship with the other parent without good cause.

Many groups participated in the effort to see SB3823 passed.  Spearheading the effort was Illinois Fathers, our Illinois affiliate, joined by Parental Alienation Awareness Organization and the Childrens Rights Council.  Each of these organizations, along with many individuals, worked tirelessly to educate legislators on the issue and the negative consequences for children who are denied access to a parent.  

By paralleling several of the sanctions for access interference with those of non-payment of child support the state of Illinois is sending a much needed message that a child’s relationship with both parents is as important as financial support for the child.  Opposing the legislation was the bar association and state domestic violence coalition.

Steve Watkins was a father murdered by his ex-wife’s grandmother as he attempted to visit his daughter.  Steve’s parents, Dale and Penny Watkins were granted visitation with Steve’s daughter following the murder.  The child’s mother continued to deny court ordered visitation ultimately taking the child to Florida where she was subsequently arrested and returned to Illinois.  The case has been covered extensively in the media, including this story from Dateline.

The bill has been forwarded to the Governor for signature.