How California Courts Decide a Parent Is Unfit

How California Courts Decide a Parent Is Unfit

August 17, 2020

In California and across the country, family courts operate to protect the best interests of children in divorcescustody disputes, and other family law matters. Most of the time, this means keeping both parents involved. Preference should not be shown to one parent over another—unless this is to protect the child’s interests. The judges who are responsible for determining custody matters will require significant evidence that a parent is unfit before awarding sole custody or terminating parental rights.

Claims & Accusations Are Not Enough

In any divorce or custody matter, parents are bound to disagree. They may disagree on minor issues or key decisions that seriously impact their children’s lives, and sometimes these disagreements can develop into claims that a parent is unfit. Claims and accusations are not enough, however. Actual proof must be shown to the court for a parent to be declared unfit.

The court may perform a child custody evaluation to determine whether a child is at risk and if sole custody should be awarded to one parent because it is in the best interests of the child.

Child Custody Evaluations

A parent cannot be declared unfit without a thorough assessment of parenting skills and a parent’s overall ability to provide a safe environment for the child or children in question.

California courts may consider the following in determining and awarding custody:

  • Can the parent make age-appropriate parenting decisions?
  • Can the parent understand and properly respond to the child’s needs?
  • How does the parent handle custody or other conflicts with the other parent?
  • Does the parent have a history of child abuse or domestic violence?
  • Does the parent have substance abuse problems?
  • Is the parent suffering from a psychiatric illness that poses a risk to the child’s health and welfare?
  • Does the parent take part in risky or unusual behavior that would jeopardize the child’s well-being?
  • Does the child prefer one parent over the other? What are the child’s feelings toward each parent?

If a parent poses a significant risk to the child’s safety, health, and overall well-being, the court may determine him or her unfit. The result? Sole custody may be awarded to the other parent. Custody may even be awarded to grandparents or another relative if both parents are unfit. The court will make its decision based on the best interests of the child, always.

Protecting Your Parental Rights

Whether you have been accused of being an unfit parent or are concerned that your spouse or ex is not fit to care for your child, you can benefit from involving an attorney. Your rights deserve to be protected. Your concerns must be presented in a clear and compelling manner to have weight with the court. A family lawyer who has experience with custody, divorce, and parenting matters will understand how to help you and your child or children achieve the best possible result.

At  Edgar & Dow, we represent parents across Southern California in a wide range of family law cases. We believe in fighting for our clients’ rights and interests, and we recognize the value in finding resolutions that fit every family’s needs. To find out how we can help you, call (888) 251-9618 today. We’re here for you.


The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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