Has your child’s other parent alleged that you were unfit to have custody of your child? If so, you need to understand how you can fight against these allegations. The information in this blog can help you understand how a family court determines if a parent is unfit in California.

What Does it Mean to be an Unfit Parent?

Parents who do their best to care for their children are usually not unfit to have custody. However, good intentions without actions can translate into unfitness. 

If a parent’s actions and conduct put the child in danger of harm or injury, the judge might find the parent unfit. Likewise, if a parent cannot care for a child’s needs, including emotional and physical needs, the court could declare the parent is unfit. 

What Factors Do Judges Use to Decide if a Parent is Unfit?

California statutes provide a preference for awarding joint custody whenever possible because children benefit from having both parents in their lives when the parents are fit. Judges use this preference in accordance with the child’s best interest. 

When a party raises allegations of unfitness, the law states that judges need to consider the following factors and circumstances:

  • Any evidence of domestic violence or abuse involving the child, any other child, or any adult
  • The health, safety, and welfare of the child
  • The nature and amount of contact between the child and the parent
  • A parent’s history of drug or alcohol abuse

Judges may consider any relevant information when determining whether a parent is unfit. For instance, a judge may order a child custody evaluation. The custody evaluator may consider many factors to determine what would be in a child’s best interest. 

Things that a child custody evaluator may review and investigate include:

  • If a parent is capable of understanding and providing for a child’s needs
  • Whether there are allegations of neglect or abandonment
  • Allegations of parental alienation
  • Whether a parent uses age-appropriate rules for the child, such as bedtimes, television, activities, etc.
  • The child’s feelings toward each parent
  • A parent’s mental health and stability
  • If a parent can effectively handle conflict with the child or between the child and other people
  • Whether a parent can provide a safe, stable home environment
  • If the parent obtains dental and medical care for the child

The evaluator is an impartial party in the custody case. The person does not have any presumptions of whether a parent is fit or unfit. The report and recommendation are based on the evidence gathered during the valuation.

Therefore, the judge may give the evaluator’s opinion more weight. However, a parent needs to be prepared to provide evidence of the allegations of unfitness instead of relying solely on the outcome of a 730 child custody evaluation. 

Evidence That May Be Presented in Court to Prove a Parent is Unfit

A judge considers the evidence parents present in court. The judge determines what evidence is relevant and whether the evidence is clear and convincing.

Examples of evidence that might be used to prove a parent is unfit includes:

  • The reports from home investigations and visitations
  • Photographs and videos
  • Testimony from family and friends who are familiar with the parent and the child
  • Expert testimony from counselors, therapists, and psychologists
  • Testimony from medical providers, teachers, coaches, etc.
  • Criminal records for the parent
  • Police reports detailing allegations of domestic violence

A child custody attorney can assist you in gathering evidence. Your lawyer ensures you understand your legal rights and the requirements for obtaining sole custody based on allegations that the other parent is unfit.

After the judge hears the evidence, he may decide that the evidence is insufficient to prove that the parent is unfit. However, if the judge determines a parent is unfit, the judge may grant sole custody to the other parent. He may also restrict visitation or require that visitation be supervised.

In cases involving violence, abuse, or allegations of wrongdoing that could put a child at a high risk of being harmed, the judge could terminate the parental rights. If a judge terminates parental rights because a parent is unfit, the parent has no right to see the child or have any say in decisions regarding the child.