family law divorce

How Does a Family Court Determine If a Parent Is Unfit?

Family courts in North Carolina can remove a child from an unfit parent if they have credible proof that the parent has abused or neglected the child or has addiction or substance abuse issues. Sometimes during divorce proceedings, one parent will accuse the other of being an unfit parent. The general standard the family courts use is the “best interests of the child.”

Our courts are careful to avoid separating a child from a parent inappropriately or unnecessarily. If you find yourself facing allegations of being an unfit parent or you think your child’s other parent is unfit, you will want to talk to a North Carolina family law attorney. They can explain how a family court determines if a parent is unfit.

Unfit Parent Accusations Create a Challenging Balancing Act for the Family Courts

Our North Carolina courts recognize that it can be emotionally traumatic and damaging for a child to get shuffled from one home base to another. Our family courts try to create living arrangements that promote continuity and permanence for the child while protecting the child’s safety. 

There are two primary situations in which a judge will have to determine if a parent is unfit:

  • When the child might need to get removed from the home because of safety issues like abuse or neglect, whether there is an ongoing custody dispute or not
  • When there is a custody dispute in which one parent claims that the other parent’s custody or visitation should be restricted.

In these circumstances, a judge, not a jury, makes the decisions about things like custody, visitation, child support, and fitness to parent.

Factors That Can Be Relevant to Parental Fitness

Every situation is different. In some disputes, the judge will focus on certain factors that might not be a part of the evaluation or determination process in another case. Here are some of the factors that a judge could explore when determining whether someone is a fit parent:

The Age of the Child

Let’s say that the parents of a newborn separated months before the birth of the child. The father lives in his car and has a history of domestic violence. The judge is unlikely to hand the newborn over to the father for a week at a time. 

Also relevant is age-appropriate conduct. It can be of interest to the judge if one parent’s home life is grossly inappropriate relative to the age of the child.

Abuse or Neglect

The judge will want to know if either parent has a history of abuse or neglect. Whether the victim of the abuse or neglect was the child in question, the other parent, or someone else, the judge will tend to question parental fitness in this situation.

Addiction and Substance Abuse

When a parent takes illegal drugs or misuses prescription drugs or alcohol, that conduct can place a child in danger of harm.

Criminal Record

A parent with a criminal record, particularly one of violence, might face restrictions like a supervised visitation.

Mental Health

Psychiatric illnesses can be relevant if the condition creates a risk for the safety or well-being of the child.

Successful Co-Parenting

Some parents are so obsessed with their anger at the other parent that they do not co-parent well. If one parent creates a toxic environment that is not in the child’s best interests, the judge might deny joint custody and reduce the opportunities that the bitter parent has to disrupt the child’s life.

These are but a few examples of the many factors that a judge could explore when determining whether a parent is unfit. North Carolina family law attorneys can offer guidance in your situation. Call our office today to schedule a consultation appointment.