When it comes to any child custody case, the most significant factor a court must consider is the child’s best interest.
Parental fitness—the ability to care for a child and provide a safe and secure home environment—significantly impacts which parent can be awarded child custody.
Massachusetts family courts operate under the assumption that it is in the best interests of a child to have both parents involved in the child’s upbringing. Because of this assumption, a high standard must be met to prove a parent is unfit.
Defining Parental Unfitness
Various situations may lead a Massachusetts judge to deem a parent unfit to carry out their parental duties. In order for a parent to be deemed unfit, there must be evidence that the parent neglected, abused, or abandoned their child.
It is not uncommon for a parent with a violent criminal history to face questions surrounding parental unfitness. The alleged abuse, abandonment, or domestic violence between parents often leads to the examination of parental fitness.
Labeling a parent as unfit is not taken lightly in the eyes of the court. It should be noted that the court will not alter or remove parental rights without adequate evidence to support parental unfitness.
A finding of unfitness can result from some of the following factors:
- abuse or neglect of the child or immediate family member;
- absence and loss of contact with a child for six months;
- failure to provide proper care for the child.
This is not an exhaustive list, and many other factors can lead to parental unfitness.
Court Considerations in Parental Unfitness
It is not uncommon for one parent to raise concerns about parental unfitness in a custody case. When allegations of substance abuse are the motivating factor behind a claim, the court will consider several factors. For example, whether the parent has taken steps toward recovery.
If a parent has a history of severe mental health issues, their ability to create a safe environment for the child may be reviewed by a judge.
The court may take the necessary step of terminating parental rights of parents who have been incarcerated for a violent offense, have a history of relapsing to drug or substance abuse, or have a track record of child abuse or neglect.
Older children may have their wishes considered by the court. However, if a child’s desires conflict with their own best interests, the court will act accordingly.
A parent deemed unfit could lose custody and/or visitation rights. Parental fitness can be a complex issue, and there is no single straightforward factor when determining unfitness. It would help if you had an attorney who understands Massachusetts family laws. Contact our law office today to discuss the merits of your child custody case.