Both parents of a child in a custody determination want to spend as much time with their children as possible. If you and your ex-spouse or co-parent are contentious, it can make custody proceedings even more stressful.  In most Midwest states, the court determines child custody based on the child’s interests. In most cases, the court believes it is in the child’s interests to have as much quality time with both parents as possible. However, this is not true of every situation, such as if one parent is deemed unfit.

A parent isn’t deemed unfit for not being the perfect parent. An unfit parent is a legal term that refers to a parent who fails to take care of a child’s basic needs, puts a child in danger, or actively causes the child harm. If the court deems a parent unfit, the parent will lose custody rights and may have limited or no visitation rights. It could also include the termination of that person’s parental rights.

How Does the Court Deem a Parent Unfit?

The exact factors that the court uses to determine the fitness of a parent depend on the state. Generally, it means that a parent is not acting with their children’s interests in mind and are failing to care for their child’s needs and keep them safe from harm. A court may determine that a parent is unfit based on actions or conduct such as:

  • Inability to Provide for a Child’s Needs and Care: This may include a parent failing to care for their child or being physically unable to provide that care. It may mean a failure to communicate with and be responsive to their child or a parent who has little to no involvement in their child’s life.
  • Child Neglect or Abandonment: Neglect refers to a lack of basic needs such as food, cleanliness, shelter, and a safe living environment. Abandonment may include physical or emotional abandonment.
  • Mental Health Disorders That Cause Harm to a Child: Mental health or psychiatric illness does not automatically make a parent unfit. However, if the illness is harming a child’s well-being or threatening their safety, it may cause a parent to be deemed unfit.
  • Child Abuse: If the court finds evidence of emotional or physical abuse by one parent to a child, that parent is considered unfit. They may only be allowed supervised visitation, or they might have their visitation rights revoked. A history of child abuse will prevent a parent from getting any custody.
  • Domestic Violence and Abuse: Similarly, if the court finds evidence of domestic abuse, a parent is considered unfit. This may be a history of domestic violence or current abuse against the other parent, a sibling, or another family member. The parent will lose rights to custody and could lose rights to visitation.
  • Any Other Form of Material Harm: This covers any potential risk to a child’s safety by a parent having custody.
  • Substance Misuse: The court may consider a parent unfit if there is evidence of a continued substance misuse disorder that is causing a child emotional or physical harm. In some states, any evidence of substance misuse will cause a parent to be unfit.
  • Criminal Conviction or Incarceration: If a parent is convicted of a serious crime, such as a violent felony, the court may consider this to be indicative of unfit parenting and strip them of parental rights.
  • Criminal Conviction for Crimes Against Children: This includes child endangerment, sexual abuse, or kidnapping. These are grounds for a parent to be considered unfit.

The court will hold the child’s interests as a priority. If you as a parent are worried about the safety of your child, and believe your co-parent is an unfit parent, you must prove this to the court. A family law and child custody attorney is an effective way to find essential evidence and advocate for your needs.

If the court deems a parent to be unfit, custody and visitation rights are determined based on the child’s interests. This may mean that the unfit parent is provided limited or supervised visitation. In extreme situations, the parent may have visitation, custody, and parental rights revoked.


Q: What Makes Someone Unfit to Be a Father in Missouri?

A: An unfit parent is a legal term that means someone should not have custody of a child. It does not refer to an imperfect parent. Missouri defines an unfit parent as someone who fails to care for the child’s interests and well-being. This may mean an unsafe living environment, emotional harm, physical harm, or otherwise causing harm or putting the child in danger.

Q: Can a Mother Deny a Father Visitation in Illinois?

A: In Illinois, a custodial parent can only deny the non-custodial parent visitation in emergencies where visitation would put the child in danger. If visitation with the non-custodial parent could cause your child harm, it’s essential to seek to modify the visitation court order to keep you and your child safe. If there is no emergency or risk of danger to your child, it is illegal to interfere with the parental rights of the non-custodial parent by denying them visitation.

Q: What Rights Do Fathers Have in Kansas?

A: Fathers, as with any legal parent, have the following parental rights:

  • The right to make decisions about their child’s healthcare and education
  • The right to make other important decisions for your child
  • The right to receive or provide child support
  • The right to sole or partial custody
  • The right to visitation

Q: What Rights Does a Non-Custodial Parent Have in Nebraska?

A: A non-custodial parent in Nebraska is awarded visitation rights in most cases. They also have the right to be notified if the custodial parent wishes to relocate with the children and the right to contest the relocation through court. If a non-custodial parent wants to modify the parenting time arrangement, they can request a modification to the court order if there has been a material change in circumstance or if the current order is harmful to the child.

Contact Stange Law Firm

You may be facing accusations of being an unfit parent, or you may be seeking to prove that your co-parent cannot safely have custody of your children. Court cases surrounding the well-being and care of your children are highly stressful and emotional. Let the attorneys at Stange Law Firm support you and provide you with legal counsel. Contact us today.