Monday, March 7, 2011

Applauding Illinois

Steve Watkins was a divorced father who had custody of his daughter, Alex, from his first marriage.  He met and married his second wife, Jennifer, who gave birth to their daughter, Sidney. 

Jennifer and Steve had a weird relationship.  Mostly because Jennifer Skinner's idea of the perfect marriage was Steven and his daughter Alex in their own home and her and Sidney living in her grandparents home (where her mother and father also live) and they (Jennifer, Steven, Alex and Sidney) could "have dinner a few times per week."

Fifteen months after their marriage, Steve and Jennifer separated and Sidney became the center of a bitter divorce and custody battle.

November 25, 2008 Steve Watkins arrived at the home of Shirley and Kenneth Skinner (Jennifer's grandparents) to pick up his daughter Sidney for his visitation.  He arrived at 5:30PM and 20 minutes later was dead.  Shot twice in the back of the head.

Shirley Skinner has been charged and convicted in the murder of Steve Watkins and is serving a 70-year sentence.  Jennifer Watkins retained custody of Sidney.  Dale and Penny Watkins (Steve's parents) have custody of his oldest daughter Alex and have been awarded visitation priveleges of Sidney.

Well, that was until Jennifer skipped town and disappeared.

On March 1, 2011 an arrest warrant was issued to jail Jennifer Watkins indefinitely until she complies with the visitation awarded to Steve's parents, Dale and Penny Watkins.

On March 2, 2011 the Illinois House Committe passed the Steve Watkins Memorial Bill.

To read a comprehensive story on this case go here.

I suppose the Steve Watkins story is truly the worst case scenario in a custody battle situation.  If you take the time to read the whole story you will be amazed at the truly heinous actions of Jennifer Watkins.  You will shake your head with disgust that this woman has been allowed to retain custody of her daughter.  You will wonder how many thousands of dollars of therapy might help little Sidney when she is old enough to understand the actions her mother and her mother's family took to keep her away from her father.  And you will wonder if the right woman is in jail for the murder of Steve Watkins.

But, there is a bright star in this sad story.  In Illinois if a parent choses to not abide by the court ordered visitation schedule there are two ways to try and enforce the court order.

1.  Criminal Court.  The victim (the person not receiving the visitation) reports the violation to the States Attorney and they prosecute.  The first two violations result in a fine and the third violation makes it a Class A misdemeanor which heresay shows police departments refuse to enforce because they consider it a petty crime.

2.  Civil Court.  The victim files a contempt case against the abuser of the visitation priveleges.  Remedies for visitation abuse are outlined in 750 ILCS 5/607.1 and currently include a modification of the visitation order, supervised visitation, make up visitation, counseling, or other appropriate relief as deemed equitable.

Whats the reality?  Well, I don't think Illinois is more advanced than any other state and I think I can pretty safely say that most of the time it results in N.O.T.H.I.N.G.  Maybe a lecture on being nice from the judge...maybe a slap on the hand...maybe threatened jail time.  But nothing that would deter someone from refusing visitation a second time.

And in a well-stated sentence from Illinois Fathers the end result is, "...This trend of dismissal sends a powerful message that visitation, the primary vehicle for non‐custodial parental involvement with their child, is
insignificant and trivial."

The death of Steve Watkins has resulted in a step forward for non-custodial parents.  Who, for the purposes of this blog are most often fathers.  Now, in addition to modifications, supervised and makeup visitation or counseling, the judges in Illinois can jail a parent, revoke their drivers license, revoke their professional license(s) and increase fines against them.

Its already got many people lamenting its passage.  The inspector general with the Secretary of State doesn't want to have to enforce revoking driver's licenses.  Members of the State bar agree.  And then there are the oppositions that focus on battered women who are just trying to protect their children.

I agree that abusers should have limited or supervised contact with children and I hate to be a cynic, but Jennifer Watkins tried crying abuse to remove Steve Watkins from Sidney's life too.  False allegations are all too common.

I'm applauding Illinois' step forward to enforcing visitation and parenting priveleges.  And when I look at the face of Steve Watkins and his two beautiful daughters... I can't help but feel they did the right thing.


  1. Incredibly sad.

    I applaud the Illinois legislators for moving this bill another step closer to becoming law... and scold those law enforcement officials who would decline to enforce court mandated visitation orders.

    A custodial parent can always identify a reason for withholding court ordered visitation from a non-custodial parent. The "reason" will always have some shade of merit, but will ultimately isolate a parent from their child. And we as a nation will continue to see sad (murderous) results in some of these volatile custody situations unless prosecutors and officers uphold their duty to enforce court orders.

  2. In Illinois wearing your seat belt is way more enforced than visitation. Richard Thomas,

  3. Jennifer Walkins is pure trash and she should be in the same cell with her grandmother for the murder of Steve. Now she is fighting to stop the extradition back to Illinois because Florida has a law in place that will not allow the paternal grandparents rights to visit their grandchild. Really sad.

  4. go look in the mirror and judge your self

  5. Thank you god!!! I was married to a women just like her and have endured years of abuse and threats. Been accused of everything you can think of. I have fought long and hard. Court tomorrow five years later. It never ends. There is a part of me that wonders if I may end up in the same place as poor Steven. It gives me hope that she is finally paying the price. I can only hope and pray the same happens to my ex wife. She is just as sick as Jennifer. Why can't the courts figure this out. For every woman who is abused, there is a man being abused by a woman in the same fashion as Jennifer abused Steven. I can only hope for justice soon!!

  6. Good dads work with mothers to raise children. Good mothers know a good father and appreciate the other parents help. If a man threatens a woman then he should have no access to children