10 Factors Family Courts Use to Determine if a Parent is Unfit

unfit-parent-video-game.pngDuring a divorce, parents often disagree about whether a certain parenting tactic is appropriate for their children. Divorce can also create a sense of mistrust between former spouses that can affect their willingness to trust the other parent regarding his or her parenting strategy. At the request of the parties (or order of the Court) a child custody evaluation may be performed. Child custody evaluations are meant to determine if granting one or both parents’ custody is in the best interest of the child or if the child is at risk in any way. The professional evaluator will consider the following ten factors in making such a determination.

1. The parent’s ability to make age-appropriate parenting decisions
When addressing this factor, the evaluator may investigate the movie ratings young children are permitted to watch. Do the children have boundaries restricting them from watching R-rated movies? If the parties’ child is a teenager, do the parents enforce a curfew? If so, is the curfew appropriate for the teen’s age?

2. Evidence of the parent’s understanding of and response to the child’s needs
The evaluator will attempt to determine the parent’s involvement in the child’s life. Does the parent pay close attention to the child’s needs? Does the child freely communicate with the parent? If so, does the parent respond in an attentive manner in a way the child can understand?

unfit-parent-guardian.jpg3. The parent’s historical involvement in the child’s life
The evaluator will be especially interested if the parent has been actively involved in the child’s life prior to the divorce. Parents learn early in a divorce case that time the children spend with the other parent can come with a steep price tag in the form of child support. Therefore, the evaluator will consider which parent has been the primary caretaker for the children throughout marriage.

4. How the parent handles custody conflicts with the other parent
Conflict between divorcing parents can have a great impact on their children. Therefore, the evaluator will consider the parent’s history of cooperating with the other parent to reach conflict resolution. Has either parent demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice their interests for the best interest of the child?

5. Perpetration of child abuse
The custody evaluator will investigate current and past child abuse perpetrated against the child at issue and any other children. This is an important consideration in any child custody case. If you suspect child abuse is ongoing it is imperative to contact the proper authorities to ensure the welfare of the child.

6. History of domestic violence
Regardless of whether abuse is perpetrated against the child, the evaluator will thoroughly scrutinize any claims of domestic violence. Specifically, the court will be interested to know whether the child has witnessed any of the abuse. If any temporary and/or permanent restraining orders have been granted between the parties, it is important to bring these to the attention of the custody evaluator. In addition, the evaluator may want to see any police reports filed which reference alleged domestic violence in the case.

7. Substance abuse issues
Any abuse of illegal or prescription drugs and/or alcohol will have a detrimental effect on a parent’s relationship with his or her child. Further, drug and/or alcohol abuse by a parent could present significant danger for a child. For instance, a parent with an alcohol addiction may or may not be able to resist alcohol while the children are in his or her care. If a parent does become incapacitated while caring for the children, his or her judgment may be significantly impaired creating an unsafe environment for children (especially young children).

8. Psychiatric illness
If psychiatric illness is an issue in the case, the evaluator will want to determine if the particular illness at issue poses a risk to the health, wellbeing or welfare of the child. As long as the children are safe and well cared for under the supervision of a parent, psychiatric illness should not be bar to custody rights.

9. Unusual social behaviors
Risky or unusual social behaviors could negatively impact the child and will be considered by a custody evaluator.

unfit-parents-united.jpg10. The child’s attitude toward both parents
The age of the child will greatly affect the weight given to his or her attitude toward both parents. For instance, at the age of fourteen, the Court will give consideration to a child’s desires regarding how much time he or she would like to spend with each parent. For younger children, the evaluator will want to analyze the child’s feeling toward his or her parents and whether the child is comfortable with both parents.

In his or her effort to gather information regarding a case, the custody evaluator may review the court file, the child’s health records, observe the child’s interactions with his or her parents, and make collateral contacts with the child’s teachers, therapists or other involved adults.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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