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Unfortunately, family courts frequently hear allegations of parental unfitness. It is one of the more regularly alleged allegations in a family court proceeding between the parties involved in child custody or dissolution of marriage action. Accusing the other parent in your case of being unfit to have parenting time or responsibilities is a serious allegation, and the courts take it very seriously.
Suppose one parent raises an allegation that the other parent is in some way not fit enough to have liberal and frequent time and decision-making responsibilities. In that case, the court will appoint a neutral third-party attorney to conduct an investigation into those allegations and make recommendations thereon about the truth and significance of the allegations and to make recommendations to the Court about parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.
Illinois deems parents who cannot be entrusted with the care of their minor children unfit, but this exists in a legal gray area. There are, as with many things in family court, degrees of unfitness the court will consider, and which must be convincingly established and essentially proven before the Court will significantly diminish the parent’s responsibilities over and rights to have time with their children.
10 Things Courts Consider Evidence of an Unfit Parent
Here are some of the things the Court will consider evidence of an unfit parent:
- Treating the children with extreme, ongoing cruelty.
- Abandoning the children;
- Ongoing neglect of the children;
- Failing to reasonably attend to the child’s well-being;
- Failing to take reasonable responsibility for the child’s welfare;
- Having the means to do so, but repeatedly failing to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, and shelter;
- Failing to protect the child from adverse environmental conditions;
- Being convicted of a crime that demonstrates depravity, like sexual assault or murder;
- Having a mental impairment, mental illness, or addiction that precludes adequate care of the child; and
- Being responsible for the child when drugs are found in the child’s system.
You’ll notice that list includes things like having the money to put the child in a warm winter coat in the winter and not doing so. It does not seek to punish parents with limited financial means for having no ability to provide a name-brand coat for the child.
That list also includes things like ongoing neglect of the children – where they leave for the weekend and tell an older child to step in as caregiver for younger children for no reason. That can also include things like failing to respect a transgender child’s preferred gender pronouns or their chosen name. Suppose the other parent is punishing the child for acting out or being disrespectful by forcing the child to go without food for a week or to sleep in the snow. In that case, that is abuse, and the Court will be much more likely to enter an Order restricting that parent’s parenting time rights or decision-making authority.
Evidence – Not Just Allegations
The Court will want to see evidence – not just allegations – about this abuse or the other parent’s fitness before entering a finding that the parent is unfit. Evidence can include a lot of different things – photographs, medical records, police reports, court orders from other cases, communications in text messages, or using a court-purpose parenting communications application. Suppose you’ve received communications from your child’s school teachers, a social worker, or counselors about something going on with the other parent, like the list above. In that case, you will want to present that information to your attorney to determine how to get that information to the Judge.
A good family law attorney will help you organize this information and present your case to the Judge, or even better, reach an agreement with the other parent that denies them time and decision-making responsibilities until they seek and gain an improvement in their ability to safely exercise their time with the child. That is usually a long road with a lot of progress necessary for a parent exhibiting the types of things courts equate with an unfit parent.