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How Does a Family Court Determine if a Parent is Unfit?
Deciding matters related to child custody is rarely easy. However, when one parent is unfit, it can make the custody case much more challenging. Proving that the parent is unfit can result in sole custody for the other parent, which can be in the child’s best interest.
What Does it Mean to Be an Unfit Parent in Florida?
Florida Statute §751.05 states that the court must find that a parent has abandoned, abused, or neglected a child to find that a parent is unfit. A parent may also be found unfit if the parent has a mental illness or substance abuse problem. These issues may be recent, or the person may have a long-standing history of the behavior or condition.
With mental illness and substance abuse, the judge considers all relevant factors to determine if placing the child with the parent would create a potentially harmful situation for the child. The judge could order that the child has limited or supervised visitation with the parent if they award sole custody to the other parent or a guardian.
Factors That Could Result in a Decision of Being Unfit
Abuse and neglect are two of the most common reasons for a parent being found unfit. Abuse can take many forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse. An abused child may sustain numerous physical injuries, but a child may also sustain emotional and psychological injuries that can impact them for the rest of their lives.
Neglect may also take many different forms. A parent may not provide food, clothing, or adequate shelter for a child. For example, living in an unsafe home might qualify as neglect. If the home is infested with insects or has health hazards, the court could find that the parent is neglecting their child.
However, keeping a dirty home could also result in a judgment as being an unfit parent. A filthy home can result in vermin, black mold, and other health hazards that could cause serious health conditions or injuries.
Parental alienation can also result in being found unfit as a parent. When parents are fit, a child benefits from having both parents play an active role in the child’s life. However, when a parent intentionally alienates a child from the other parent, the child is the one who suffers the most.
The parent guilty of parental alienation can cause a child to suffer emotional distress and mental trauma that causes long-term consequences. A child may suffer from depression, anxiety, and other psychological conditions because of the parental alienation.
Other examples of actions that could result in a finding of unfitness include:
The above situations are just a few examples of things that could result in the court finding a parent unfit. If you are concerned about your child being in a dangerous or unhealthy situation, you may want to contact a family law attorney to discuss legal options for seeking sole custody and/or terminating visitation.
How to Prove That a Parent is Unfit
A judge does not deny custody or visitation solely based on your allegations of unfitness. The court requires proof that the other parent is unfit. Your allegations need to be true, accurate, and factual.
You need compelling evidence proving your child’s other parent is unfit.
Evidence could include:
Testimony from friends, family, teachers, and other people in the child’s life
Testimony from expert witnesses, including physicians, psychologists, counselors, etc.
Photographs and videos
School and medical records
Details of home visits and inspections
Any evidence related to the parent’s conduct or condition that makes the parent unfit can be introduced at court if it supports your claim.
After a hearing, the judge will determine whether a parent is fit or unfit. The judge will consider all relevant evidence and the best interest of the child. If the judge finds that a parent is unfit, the judge could take several different actions.
A judge could award sole custody to the other parent when a parent is found unfit. Visitation may be limited or supervised. In severe cases, the state could request that the court terminate the parental rights of an unfit parent.
Allegations of fitness are serious. Whether you are bringing the allegations or defending the allegations, having an experienced custody lawyer represent you in court is wise.