SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
522 N.E.2d 1225, 122 Ill. 2d 153, 119 Ill. Dec. 366
Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Third District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Grundy County, the Hon. Richard R. Wilder, Judge, presiding. 1988.IL.593
JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the opinion of the court.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE CUNNINGHAM
Plaintiffs, Gene Ray Bush and Louise M. Bush, are the biological maternal grandparents of Anthony Squellati, a minor child. On August 17, 1984, Anthony, then two years old, was adopted by defendants, Charles Squellati and Sally Squellati. Both of Anthony's biological parents consented to this adoption. Subsequent to this, Anthony's biological parents were divorced. Defendant Sally Squellati, Anthony's legal mother after his adoption, is the sister of plaintiff Louise M. Bush, and is, therefore, Anthony's biological great-aunt.
Plaintiffs filed a petition on November 11, 1985, in the circuit court of Grundy County, requesting court-ordered visitation with Anthony. The circuit court ordered visitation for plaintiffs, and defendants appealed. The appellate court reversed the order of the circuit court (154 Ill. App. 3d 727), and we granted plaintiffs' petition for leave to appeal (107 Ill. 2d R. 315). We affirm the judgment of the appellate court.
At issue is the question of whether visitation privileges may be granted to biological grandparents under section 607(b) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Marriage Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 40, par. 607(b)) when the biological parents of the minor child have both consented to the adoption of the child by others. The appellate court noted that grandparents' visitation rights following a dissolution of marriage of the child's biological parents arise either at common law or by virtue of section 607(b) of the Marriage Act. At common law, grandparents could be entitled to court-ordered visitation with a minor child only when special circumstances were shown. (Chodzko v. Chodzko (1976), 66 Ill. 2d 28.) Special circumstances sufficient to grant visitation rights to grandparents have been found where the natural father was inducted into the armed forces and he had petitioned the court to allow his parents to visit with his child during his absence (Solomon v. Solomon (1943), 319 Ill. App. 618), and where the natural father had died and had named his parents trustees of a fund which was for the benefit of his child (Lucchesi v. Lucchesi (1947), 330 Ill. App. 506). In Boyles v. Boyles (1973), 14 Ill. App. 3d 602, the appellate court found it to be error to deny the natural grandparents' petition for visitation as a matter of law where the child had just lost his mother and was extremely close to his grandparents by virtue of the fact that prior to his mother's death, the child had visited with the grandparents every day.
In Chodzko, this court found no special circumstances established which would warrant granting special visitation rights to the grandparents, and agreed with the contention of the mother that "visitation privileges can be extended to grandparents only when it is shown that special circumstances beyond mere mutual affection exist to justify an order awarding such visitation." (Chodzko, 66 Ill. 2d at 32.) The appellate court found no special circumstances which would justify judicial interference on behalf of grandparents present in this case. We agree with the appellate court that any authority of the circuit court to grant visitation to plaintiffs must be determined with reference to the Marriage Act.
Initially, we note that grandparents' visitation rights are statutorily provided for in the case of the death of both natural or adoptive parents in section 11-7.1 of the Probate Code of 1975 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110 1/2, par. 11-7.1). This section, which became effective in 1977, is inapplicable to the facts of the instant case: both natural parents voluntarily gave up their child for adoption, and both adoptive parents are still living.
"The court may grant reasonable visitation privileges to a grandparent or great-grandparent of any minor child upon the grandparents' or great-grandparents' petition to the court, with notice to the parties required to be notified under Section 601 of this Act, if the court determines that it is in the best interests and welfare of the child and may issue any necessary orders to enforce such visitation privileges." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 40, par. 607(b) (effective January 1, 1982).)
Subsection (b) was further amended by Public Act 82 -- 1002, by addition of this sentence:
"Further, the court, pursuant to this subsection, may grant reasonable visitation privileges to a grandparent or great-grandparents whose child has died where the court determines that it is in the best interests and welfare of the child." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 40, par. 607(b) (effective September 17, 1982).)
This language was interpreted by our appellate court in Towne v. Cole (1985), 133 Ill. App. 3d 380. Towne involved an action by a grandmother seeking court-ordered visitation with her granddaughter. The grandmother's son and his wife, the natural parents of the minor child, were not involved in a dissolution of marriage proceeding, and no prior custody or adoption matters were involved. The court first considered the legislative history of section 607(b), as amended by Public Acts 82 -- 344 and 82 -- 1002. The court initially noted that section 607(b), as amended by Public Act 82 -- 344, was unclear as to whether it applied to grandparent visitation where there was no dissolution action pending, no adoption proceeding, no custody proceeding and no death of a parent. The court next considered the amendment of section 607(b) by Public Act 82 -- 1002, which provided for visitation to a grandparent whose child had died. The court reasoned that if all grandparents were to be allowed to legally petition the court for visitation with a grandchild, this amendment ...