On March 6, Michele Peters was shot in the face while one son was asleep in the next room and the other played in his play pen. Neighbors heard her arguing with her live-in boyfriend and father of her children moments before the shot. He was eventually arrested after the forensic evidence pointed to him as the culprit, reports the Chicago Heights Patch.
Before he was taken into custody, George Kleopa handed his children over to relatives in California. Prior to the murder, the children reportedly had a strong relationship with their maternal grandmother, Catherine Peters. Since the murder, Catherine has only seen one of her grandchildren on a single occasion, briefly, a week after her daughter's funeral.
Prior to 2000, grandparents could petition for visitation rights, regardless of whether or not the parents consented. After the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Troxel v. Granville, that all changed. The decision reaffirmed the fundamental right of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children. The decision overruled a similar law in Washington state and, as a result, also invalidated the Illinois law.
A few years later, the Illinois legislature sought to reaffirm grandparents' rights to the full extent allowable under the Troxel decision. The new laws allow grandparents to petition for visitation rights in certain circumstances, such as when one parent is deceased or a parent is imprisoned for longer than three months.
There is a presumption that parents act in the best interests of their children, but a petitioning grandparent can overcome that presumption with her own "best interests" evidence. Some of the factors considered under the statute include the child's preference, the child's prior relationship with the grandparent, and prior visitation rights.
For grandmother Catherine Peters, she'll have to show that, based on her prior relationship with the children, their best interests weigh in favor of visitation and/or full custody.
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