What Does California Consider An Unfit Parent?

When it comes to divorce, it is typically caused by irreconcilable differences between a couple. Unfortunately, this may form distrust for their new ex-spouse, and both might attack one another’s ability to effectively care for their children. When this happens, the court will become involved, and a professional evaluation will be conducted to determine joint or sole custody between the parents. The court’s duty is to always rule with the best interest of a child, and have criteria for what makes a parent fit for raising their children.

What Is An Unfit Parent?

Saying that someone is an “unfit parent” over not meeting specific standards for raising children has been casually used by people in conversation, but in divorce law, an unfit parent actually is a legal term used when determining custody. By parent request, or ordered by the court, a child custody evaluator can be used to examine both parties, their homes, and their relationship with their children. Additionally, a child custody evaluator may interview the children’s therapists, other caregivers, teachers, and any other adults in the child’s life. There are a few factors that are under review when determining a parent’s fitness:

  • Any history of physical abuse, substance abuse, domestic abuse, or incarcerations: While it is rare for California judges to completely cut parents off from contacting their children, if there is enough significant evidence and proof given, and not just claims from the other parent, these circumstances can deny custody or visitation rights for either party.
  • The parent’s ability to make appropriate decisions for a child: The court requires a parent to make responsible, and age-appropriate, limitations for their child.
  • How does the parent understand and respond to their child’s needs?: A parent needs a functional relationship with their child, and how the parent responds to what their child needs and any changes in behavior.
  • Involvement of the parent in the past: A parent’s history with their child is especially important; if the parent has been absent, or heavily relied on others for the care of their child, this can hinder the determination of custody.
  • How conflict is handled between both parents regarding custody: A past with uncooperative behavior will likely be counted against each party, and if they are unable to handle conflict appropriately going forward.
  • The child’s opinion: In some cases, children that are over the age of 12 and able to articulate their wishes will be heard, and their opinions considered.
  • Work schedules and time spent with the child: Parents who work out of the area, or who have extensive or odd hours might make them unable to provide proper supervision for their child. The court may want to see a parent relocate, or change jobs, to see willingness in providing a stable home life.
  • Mental illness: Mental illness does not always affect custody decisions if it doesn’t threaten the welfare of the child, especially if the parent is seeking treatment.

A child custody evaluator can not give any preference to either parent’s gender. Race, sexual orientation, religion, or one’s financial status does not hold any weight when determining parental fitness.

If a parent is found unfit, the evaluator may suggest visitation schedules for said parent. These visitations can be supervised, limited, or denied based on different circumstances. When neither parent is found to be a threat to their child, and joint custody is possible, the parents will be able to work with the evaluator to limit conflicts, and make parenting plans to move forward.

Seeking Experienced Attorney Help

It’s important to consider that while it may be easy to focus on what makes the other parent “unfit”, ultimately decisions made should truly be in the best interest of the child. Legal guidance can provide more stability, ensure rational resolutions, and help move through conflict. Also keep in mind that your children are affected by your behavior, and reducing arguments between you and your ex can provide more benefit during this turbulent time when creating this new chapter for your family.

If you have any concerns about being able to prove your fitness as a parent, having a reliable attorney is an indispensable asset, as your attorney will help you gather evidence to support your position and prove that you can be a fit parent for your children. When your child’s well-being is at stake, it’s essential to seek out an experienced family law attorney who can make sure you are advocated for. 

At Azemika Law, we’re here for you. We efficiently handle cases involving divorce, dissolutions of partnerships, child custody, abandonment, and adoptions. Serving all of Kern County for 28 years, we at Azemika Law give attentive support, with the best interest for your child. Contact us today to help create effective resolutions and build a clear, better future for both you and your children.

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