Parental rights are sacred. Except in limited circumstances, the law presumes parents know what is best for their children. Even in divorce, New Jersey courts favor some form of shared custody, on the assumption that children benefit most from continued contact with both parents. There are, however, circumstances under which a parent can be deemed unfit. Declaring a person legally unfit to be a parent means taking away their parental rights in order to protect the health and well-being of the child. Continue reading to learn about when New Jersey courts will declare a parent unfit, and call an experienced Englewood child custody and parental rights attorney for help with a New Jersey family law matter.
Defining an Unfit Parent in New Jersey
New Jersey family law assumes parents should have custody rights over their children. In a custody dispute, the court will aim to give both parents some form of shared legal and physical custody. Whether in a divorce custody dispute or some other situation addressing child custody, to take away parental rights, the court must be presented with affirmative evidence showing that the parent in question is not fit to raise children.
To the New Jersey courts, establishing a parent is unfit means proving that that parent is not capable of providing a nurturing and safe environment for their child. The parent’s inability to provide a safe environment could put the child at risk of suffering harm, either emotional, psychological, or physical.
There is no defined set of circumstances that are necessary or sufficient to prove a parent is unfit. There are, however, many common situations or conditions that give courts ground to deem a parent unfit, including the following:
- A history of drug or alcohol abuse, or other addiction issues
- Incarceration or another significant criminal history
- A history of violent or abusive behavior
- Previous instances of neglect, abandonment, or other forms of child endangerment
- Mental illness or other concerning mental health issues
Proving a Parent is Unfit
A parent who is deemed to be unfit might see their parental rights restricted, or they might lose custody rights entirely. They could have their physical custody rights reduced to visitation, supervised visitation, or even no contact with their child. They might lose out on their legal custodial rights to make decisions regarding their child’s education, healthcare, and other important matters. Understanding the importance of parentage and custodial rights, courts require substantial evidence of a parent’s lack of fitness before stripping them of parental rights.
Affirmative evidence of a parent’s unfitness may include, for example:
- Medical records showing a child’s illness or physical injury
- Court records showing criminal convictions
- Court records pertaining to domestic violence, such as protective orders
- School records showing a child’s truancy or other performance issues when left in the custody of the allegedly unfit parent
- Psychological evaluations illustrating emotional or psychological problems suffered by the child
- Failed drug and alcohol tests
- Medical records of the parent showing a history of addiction or dangerous behavior, such as driving while intoxicated
If you believe your ex or co-parent poses a danger to your children, a dedicated child custody attorney can help you establish unfitness and protect your children. If your parental rights are unjustly under assault, your parental rights lawyer can help you protect your physical and legal custody rights.
For Help Protecting Your Parental Rights and Your Children, Call a New Jersey Child Custody Lawyer
If you’re facing a custody dispute in New Jersey or dealing with child support, divorce, property division, or other family law issues, contact the Englewood family law attorneys Herbert & Weiss at (201) 500-2151.