Divorce can deal a hard blow to children, especially young ones. If the home environment is angry and hostile, children can become insecure and anxious about the future. They begin to wonder who will take care of them and where they will live. These basic questions can scare children until they have answers. Fortunately, courts use the guideline of putting the best interests of children ahead of all other factors when they consider which parent will get child custody and which parent will pay child support.
Sometimes, though, neither parent is in a position to look after a child. In these cases, a court may decide to give child custody to a grandparent. In fact, in Illinois, more than 220,000 children younger than 18 live with their grandparents. That means that more than 100,000 grandparents are looking after their grandchildren.
What leads courts to award custody to grandparents? The death of a parent is the primary reason but parental neglect, child abuse and drug or alcohol abuse are also important considerations. Other situations may involve chronic parental unemployment, unwed teen mothers and parents who are ill or dying from diseases such as AIDS.
Nationally, some 57 percent of grandparents with child custody are white, 24 percent are black and 27 percent Hispanic. In Illinois, the figures are somewhat different, with some 47 percent of grandparents being white and 36 percent black.
Grandparents’ income can also be a factor. In Illinois, the median income of families in which custodial grandparents are caring for their grandchildren is nearly $46,000.
There are downsides for both grandparents and grandchildren if custody goes to the grandparents. Custody is often awarded on short notice and with little preparation. Grandparents can find it difficult to handle younger children. Some senior residences prohibit children, so eviction becomes a possibility.
Source: Illinois Department on Aging, “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Program,” Accessed on March 30, 2015