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What Makes a Parent “Unfit?”

Mon 17th Jan, 2022 Blogs

No parent is perfect, but one need not be perfect to maintain a safe, healthy, and nurturing home in which to raise a child. It is the policy of the state of California that children should have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or divorced. However, the state’s overarching concern for children is their right to be safe and free from abuse, which allows family courts to deny child custody to parents they deem unfit to care for their children. If the fitness of a parent is an issue in your divorce proceeding, an attorney at a Stockton child custody law firm can assist you. 

Factors Courts Use to Determine whether a Parent is Unfit

The guiding principle of the law of child custody is that custody determinations must be guided by the best interests of the child. Family law courts take into account an extensive list of factors when considering the best interests of children. When one party to a custody proceeding raises allegations of unfitness, courts consider the following factors: 

  • The health, safety, and welfare of the child
  • The history of abuse by the parent against the child, other children in the parent’s care, the other parent, or a romantic partner
  • The history of habitual or continual use of controlled substances (including alcohol)  

If allegations of abuse or drug use are made during the custody proceedings and the court has concerns about the child’s safety, it may order child welfare services to conduct an investigation into the allegations. The investigator may consider: 

  • Whether the parent sets age-appropriate limits for the child
  • Whether the parent understands and responds to the child’s needs
  • The parent’s history of involvement in caring for the child
  • The parent’s psychological and social functioning 
  • Allegations of neglect or abandonment 
  • Allegations of parental alienation
  • Whether the parent obtains medical and dental care for the child
  • The parent’s ability to provide for the child’s everyday needs (such as food and clothing)
  • How the parent handles conflict with the child and others
  • The child’s feelings toward each parent 

Upon completion of the evaluation, the evaluator will prepare and submit a report for the court’s consideration. 

Evidence that May Be Used to Prove a Parent Unfit

Courts are generally reluctant to strip parents of their parental rights; therefore, the party alleging unfitness must submit extensive corroborating evidence. Such evidence can take the form of police records, school records, medical records, photographic and video evidence from the parent’s home, and testimony from individuals who have witnessed or are otherwise familiar with specific instances of the behavior alleged to be unfit. 

Get Help from an Attorney at Our Stockton Child Custody Law Firm

Proving that a parent is unfit and defending against allegations of unfitness can be particularly difficult and emotionally draining. If the fitness of a parent is an issue in your divorce matter, please contact an attorney at the Stockton child custody law firm of McKinley, Conger, Jolley & Galarneau by using our online form or calling us at 209-477-8171.

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