While nobody is a perfect parent, some parents are a danger to their children
Parenting is the most difficult job anyone can have. It’s an exhausting 24-hour, 7-days-a-week responsibility. Nobody does it perfectly. But, there’s a huge difference between being an imperfect parent and an unfit parent. New Jersey law defines an unfit parent as someone who:
- Is grossly immoral or unfit to be entrusted with the care and education of a child
- Fails to provide a child with proper protection, maintenance or education
- Has vicious, careless, or dissolute habits that endanger a child’s welfare
In addition, to find a parent unfit, you must show that the child suffered harm. An experienced NJ family law attorney can help you become an aggressive advocate for a child with an unfit parent.
Collecting proof that a parent is unfit
Proving that a parent is unfit can be very difficult. Courts are biased in favor of keeping children with their parents. Judges and mediators know that it’s very common for divorcing parents to accuse each other of being unfit. But, actually being an unfit parent is very different from having a disagreement over child rearing. The court will require concrete proof that the parent is unfit and that the child has been mentally or physically harmed by the parent.
To prove a parent unfit, you need a well-documented history of the parent’s behavior and its impact on the child. This includes:
- Media and recordings. Photos, audio/video recordings, social media posts, phone messages/texts
- Medical records. Doctor and hospital records, substance abuse rehab records, X-rays and test results
- School records. School psychologist reports/referrals, teachers’ reports, disciplinary reports
- Court records. Criminal records (prior arrests/complaints), probationary reports, physical/domestic abuse claims
- Other documentation. Information and claims from NJ Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P)
A lawyer who focuses on New Jersey family and custody law can provide you with guidance on how to prove that a child has been endangered by an unfit parent.
Behaviors that might indicate a parent is unfit
Some parental behaviors can put children in immediate danger. These are some of the most common behaviors that indicate a parent is unfit to be a custodial parent:
- Substance use. Abuse of and/or addiction to alcohol, drugs (illegal or prescribed), or other substances
- Abuse. Physical assault, sexual abuse, denying proper medical care, verbal abuse, violence, threats
- Mental illness. Diagnosed mental illnesses with delusions, severe anxiety, self-harm, or tendency to harm others
- Incarceration. Parent is in
prison or jail·
- Neglect. Failure to provide
medical attention, failure to provide proper education, failure to provide
basic needs (food, shelter, clothing), unsanitary conditions, inadequate
- Poor judgment. Leaving a young
child unsupervised or in the care of an inappropriate caregiver, keeping
unlocked weapons, criminal activity
NJ CP&P defines 15 indicators of harm to children. It also suggests ways to gather proof that can be used to establish a parent as unfit.