There are parents who seek sole custody of their child because they believe that their former spouse is unfit to be a parent. In general, an “unfit parent” is one who fails to properly provide for the child and to ensure their wellbeing.
Every state has its own specific criteria for determining whether a parent is unfit. In Arizona, if you wish to prove that your ex-spouse is an unfit parent, you can request the family court to convene a child custody evaluation. The judge may also order this evaluation if there is a serious parenting issue such as domestic abuse or neglect. During this evaluation, a mental health professional will assess each parent’s suitability to have custody of the child.
Arizona’s Criteria For Evaluating An Unfit Parent
Custody evaluators consider numerous facts and circumstances when assessing a parent. These are the most basic factors they look at:
- Childcare involvement. Did the parent share childcare responsibilities, or did they leave these duties to the other parent?
- Child’s safety with parent. Has the parent exposed the child to danger (e.g. driving drunk with child in the car, taking the child to unsafe areas, etc)?
- Child’s attitude towards parent. Does the child feel comfortable interacting with the parent? Or is the child afraid, frustrated, or unresponsive around them?
- Parent’s attitude towards ex-partner. Is the parent in question reasonable and amicable with the ex-spouse? Or are they unable to overcome their conflict?
- Age-appropriate limits. Has the parent exposed the child to actions or material inappropriate for their age? Examples: Letting an eight-year-old watch mature movies, or letting a minor drink alcohol.
- Personal and social functioning. Is the parent emotionally capable of raising the child in their own home? Does the parent have social issues that may be detrimental to the child? (Things like refusing to speak to neighbors, being in conflict with family, and so on.)
- Mental capacity. Does the parent have any mental or psychiatric condition that would prevent them from raising the child well?
- Substance abuse. Does the parent have a history of abusing alcohol or drugs?
- Domestic violence. Has the parent physically or emotionally abused someone in the household? Did the child witness this abuse?
- Child abuse or neglect. Has the parent physically or emotionally abused the child? Were their cases of child neglect involving the parent?
How You Can Show That A Parent Is Unfit
Custody evaluators employ several ways to examine a family case. They will look at material evidence, interview relatives and other close individuals, and discuss with other professionals in the child’s life (such as teachers and doctors). They may even conduct a psychological evaluation of each parent. If you want to strengthen your claim that the child’s other parent is unfit, here are some things you can do:
- Gather documents and records about the other parent. These may include police reports, criminal history, drug tests, medical records, and any past allegations against the person.
- Gather evidence on incidents involving your child. Perhaps the Department of Child Services has raised concerns before about the child’s situation with your ex. Or perhaps there are medical records showing that your little one was injured while under the care of your ex. As much as possible, document your case. Try to build a complete account of such incidents.
- Present witnesses who support your claim. Are there persons who saw the harm or endangerment of your child? Their testimony can strengthen your case.
- Take your child to an expert if you suspect abuse. If you see signs that your child has suffered at your ex’s home but you have no concrete proof of it, let a psychologist or therapist see the little one. This is not only to get an expert’s opinion for your custody claim, but more importantly to ensure the mental and physical wellness of your child.
- Avoid being aggressive towards your ex. Bickering and finger-pointing may only highlight your own conflict against your former partner. Instead, stay rational and factual when presenting your case.
- Hire a family law attorney. A family law attorney can skillfully navigate this area of the law and find effective means to argue your case. At the very least, consult a lawyer about your child custody case.
You can start by talking to our considerate attorneys at Goldman Law. We can provide you with case-specific guidance on making an unfit parent claim in Arizona. If you need representation for your custody case, we have decades of experience that puts you at an advantage.