Parenting is a personal journey for each individual. Generally, courts will not interfere with the parent’s rights unless there is a serious problem that endangers a child’s physical or mental health. Courts recognize that some individuals may be more fit for parenting than other individuals. The court will not penalize parents for being imperfect.
The core principle the judges consider in every case is the child’s best interests standard. However, that consideration is weighed against parental rights. A judge is not likely to deny custody or revoke parental rights if a parent is trying to do their best. However, if a parent’s actions could place a child in danger or cause them emotional or mental harm, the court might rule that the parent is unfit. Being an unfit parent means that you are incapable of caring for your child and are unable to ensure your child’s welfare.
What Factors Judges Use to Determine If a Mother is Unfit?
When deciding whether a parent is unfit to have custody of a child, a judge reviews the following factors and circumstances:
- The safety, health, and welfare of the child;
- Evidence of a history of abuse or violence against the child, another child, the child’s other parent, or another romantic partner;
- A parent’s history of substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol and;
- The amount and nature of contact between the child and each parent.
Some family codes across the state require judges to consider the above factors. It is in their discretion to weigh all relevant factors to decide whether a parent is fit to have custody. For instance, the judge may order a child custody evaluation to assist in their decision. Factors that the evaluator may examine when preparing a report and recommendation for the court include:
- Whether the parent sets age-appropriate restrictions for activities, television, bedtimes, etc;
- How well a parent handles conflict with the child and between the child and other individuals;
- If a parent can understand and provide for a child’s needs;
- The parent’s level of involvement in the child’s life;
- A child’s feelings toward each parent;
- Whether a parent has a history of mental illness or instability;
- History of neglect or abandonment;
- Whether the parent obtains medical and dental care for the child;
- A parent’s ability to provide a safe, clean home, including adequate food and clothing for the child and;
- Allegations of parental alienation by either parent.
It is important to note that neither the court nor the evaluator has a presumption or preference for either parent. As stated earlier, custody is often granted jointly to both parents according to the child’s best interest. The court and the child custody evaluator objectively review the information and determine the child’s best interest based on a parent’s fitness to care for the child.
What is the Evidence Used to Prove is Unfit?
Proving a parent is unfit can be a challenging task. A judge will not simply terminate a parent’s legal rights based on the allegations of the other parent. The parent alleging unfitness must have relevant evidence to substantiate the allegations. A court-ordered child custody evaluation may be crucial in these scenarios. The evaluator is known to be an independent investigator; therefore any evidence obtained by the evaluator may be viewed with great authority by the court.
Other evidence that could be used to prove that a parent is unfit might include:
- Testimony from counselors, therapists, teachers, coaches, and other people who are familiar with specific instances in which the parent displayed unfit behavior;
- School and medical records;
- Police reports detailing domestic violence;
- Photographs and videos of the parent’s home;
- Details of home visits and inspections and;
- Criminal records.
The evidence proving a parent is unfit varies on the specific allegations made against the parent. A child custody lawyer with experience in handling these types of custody cases will guide the parent through the process of gathering evidence and presenting a compelling case to the judge.
A judge may discover that the allegations against the parent are unfounded. If the judge finds that a parent is unfit, the judge may order sole custody to the other parent. Depending on the allegations, the court may order supervised or restricted visitation. In rare cases, the court could involuntarily terminate the parental rights of an unfit parent after a careful evaluation of all the circumstances.
What Is the Best Interests of the Child Standard?
Regardless of a state’s particular definition, addressing the issue of parental fitness is resolved by figuring out the best interests of the child. This is the standard for all decisions involving a child’s well-being.
The court is required to intervene and protect a child from an unfit parent. It has the authority to deny a parent visitation rights if the parent is an unfit person or that visiting with the parent is not considered to be in the child’s best interests.
How Can a Mother Lose Custody of Her Child?
The court will rely on several aspects to determine whether a mother should be prevented from seeking or obtaining custody. If there is any history of child abuse, the court will look unfavorably at a mother that has a history of abusing her child. Child abuse charges are harder to overcome in child custody proceedings. If the court has sufficient evidence supporting such charges, the mother will, at most, only obtain occasional visitation rights.
If the court detects that there is a history of domestic violence, including physical and verbal abuse, both against the child or the father, it can be detrimental to the mother’s case in custody proceedings. It focuses on the mother’s ability to ensure the child’s safety. The court will most likely grant sole custody to the father and only grant the mother visitation rights under strict monitoring.
Furthermore, there is a charge for emotional abuse but this is more difficult to prove in court, but it is just as effective in terminating the mother’s custodial rights. Some examples of emotional abuse are the following:
- The mother constantly harasses or belittles her child;
- Parental alienation, or trying to manipulate the child into harboring negative feelings about their father and;
- Interfering with visitation rights by preventing the father from seeing the child or excluding the child.
When a mother neglects to provide for her child in certain crucial areas such as their basic needs, access to healthcare, or access to education, they might lose their custodial rights.
Additionally, there are psychiatric concerns the courts examine and the court may consider the mother a risk to the child if they are suffering from an aggressive or unpredictable mental health condition. If this is proven through prescriptions or proof of therapy that the mother is mentally unstable to parent her child, the court may remove custody.
Lastly, if the mother is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol this may also prevent her from getting custodial rights, especially if the court determines that she is unreliable or presents a clear danger to her child.
When Do I Need To Contact a Lawyer?
If you have evidence that the mother is not fit to take care of the child, there are several procedures to determine and consider before moving forward. It may be useful to reach out to a local child custody attorney to guide you through the process. An attorney can provide you with legal advice, guidance, and representation for your case.