Judges see parental fitness as an essential part of a child custody decision. Deciding what is in the best interest of the child factors in looking at the standing of the parents. If one of the parents is more stable than the other, judges can choose to award sole custody (sole legal decision making) to the more stable parent. And as a result, parental suitability is often instrumentally used in custody battles. Each state has its own set of rules as regards to what makes an unfit parent. Despite that, there are some generally accepted grounds that a parent can use to prove that the other parent is unfit. These include neglect, mental illness, abuse, drug or alcohol abuse and incarceration.
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1. Research the Criteria for Your State
Research your state’s statutes to find the criteria to deem a parent unfit. Usually, these statutes are found in the family or juvenile codes. Visit your states court website or other online service providers to find the requirements for your state.
2. Collect Evidence to Prove the Mother is Unfit
Collect evidence proving that the other parent is unfit. Evidence that can be submitted in court can include pictures, video and/ or audio files of verbal physical or abuse, recorded medical files that document injuries, the parent’s criminal history and direct communication between the petitioner and the other parent. The evidence needs to be strong and impartial. Courts are inclined to protect the parent-child relationship and will not rule a parent unfit without substantial and hard evidence.
3. Schedule an Appointment with Medical and Mental Health Professionals
Schedule an appointment with medical and mental health professionals for an evaluation of your child. Depending upon any current custody (legal decision making) requirements, this step may need to wait until there is a court-ordered evaluation. In certain cases, the consent of each parent may be necessary for such evaluations.
4. Locate and Download your Appropriate State Forms
Locate and download the appropriate forms from your states court website or another online document provider. State child custody laws have strict rules in regard to what court holds jurisdiction over such matters. You will need either a Motion to Modify Child Custody order or a Petition for Custody form, depending on if there is already an order currently in place or not.
5. Fill Out the Forms
Fill out and complete the forms. Enter the information that includes parental contact information, any related court cases, the child’s name, birth date, and current living situation and the reason for petition or modification. Include the grounds for their unfitness and the evidence collected to back up your claim. Sign the form and make sure to make a copy for your records.
6. File the Forms with the Appropriate Court
File the forms and any attachments with the correct court. Review your state regulations to find out whether this will be a family or juvenile court in the county where the child lives or some other type of requirement. Jurisdiction over child custody cases will vary from state to state. If it is a petition for revision, file the papers where they were originally filed. The clerk will then assign a case number.
7. Have the Documents Served to the Other Parent
Have the documents personally served on the other parent by a licensed process server. Go over the service of process rules for the appropriate court. Service rules differ by their jurisdiction, but typically requires in-person service by a law enforcement agency, a private process server or an adult over 18 and that is impartial to the suit. Provide proof of services form for the individual to complete. Deliver the proof of service form back to the court clerk.
8. Go to the Hearing and Explain Why you Requested the Hearing
Go to the hearing. Explain why you are requesting the hearing and provide an explanation for the petition. Make sure to be concise and clear. Produce original copies of the evidence proving your unfit parent claim. Bring the original copies of the evidence you collected against the parent that backs up your claim. This will include any witness testimony, medical or school records validating your claim that the parent is unfit and that it’s not in the child’s best interest to remain in her care. After hearing both sides, the court might rule or order a child custody evaluation. The evaluation will include a comprehensive review of both parents and the child. The evaluator is an impartial party who will evaluate each home environment, interview friends and family and schedule psychological testing for everyone involved.
9. Participate in the Child Custody Evaluation
If necessary, participate in the court-ordered child custody evaluation.
10. Attend the Hearing
Attend the hearing for the judge’s ruling.
Stevens, Alisa. “How to Prove a Parent Unfit in Child Custody Cases.” LegalZoom Legal Info, 21 Nov. 2017, info.legalzoom.com/prove-parent-unfit-child-custody-cases-21345.html.
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