How Does a Family Court Determine If a Parent Is Unfit?

Posted On April 2, 2024 Child Custody

An unfit parent is a parent who fails to provide the proper care, guidance, or support for their child. A Washington family court may deem a parent unfit for many reasons. If a parent is unfit, the court may grant sole legal and physical custody to the child’s other parent.

You can petition the court to declare your child’s other parent unfit. In cases of neglect or abuse, the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) may investigate a parent’s fitness.

Understanding the factors the court uses to determine if a parent is unfit can help you prepare a case or defend yourself against these allegations.

Factors Washington State Family Courts Use to Determine Parental Fitness

In all child custody cases, family court judges must determine the best interests of the child. When judges decide whether a parent is unfit, they consider many factors. 

Some factors that a judge may consider to determine parental fitness include:

  • A history of substance abuse and/or addiction that makes the parent unreliable or a danger to a child. The parent would need to prove long-term sobriety to override this concern.
  • The parent’s ability to make decisions for a child that are age-appropriate. For example, letting a young child watch an R-rated movie or choose whether they go to bed on time may not be an age-appropriate decision.
  • A history of child abuse and/or neglect. Child abuse can take many forms, including physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse.
  • A history of domestic abuse, especially if the child witnessed the abuse.
  • How does the parent’s work schedule impact their ability to spend sufficient time with their children and/or provide adequate supervision for their child?
  • A parent’s ability to communicate effectively with their child to sustain a functional relationship.
  • A parent’s living condition. If a parent cannot maintain a safe and proper home for their child, the court might question their fitness for custody.
  • The parent’s mental health, including whether a parent has a diagnosed psychiatric illness that could impact their ability to care for their child.

Judges may consider any factor they deem relevant to deciding whether a parent is fit to have custody of their child. The party filing the motion questioning a parent’s fitness has the burden of proof.

What Types of Evidence Are Used to Prove That a Parent is Unfit in Washington State?

The evidence your Spokane child custody attorney may use depends on the circumstances and factors involved in your case. 

However, evidence that could help prove a parent is unfit includes:

  • Official police reports documenting incidents of abuse or domestic violence
  • Reports from the Department of Children, Youth & Families
  • Photographs and videos of evidence of the parent’s unfitness
  • Statements from therapists, teachers, coaches, and loved ones
  • Documentation of a prior criminal history or current criminal charges
  • Medical and academic records for the children
  • Records of home visits and inspections

The judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the child during the proceedings. A GAL investigates the allegations and files a report with the court. The judge may or may not use the recommendations by the GAL regarding custody.

What Happens if a Court Finds a Parent Unfit in Washington?

If a judge finds that a parent is unfit, the judge may grant sole physical and legal custody to the other parent. That means the unfit parent does not have any legal right to make decisions for their children.

However, the unfit parent may be granted visitation with their child. Depending on the circumstances, the court may order supervised visitation. With supervised visitation, the parent is not left alone with the child.

In severe cases involving parental unfitness, a court could terminate the parental rights. Courts only take this action when absolutely necessary. Generally, terminating parental rights happens when the state takes custody of a child who is in danger if they remain with their parents.

Contact the Washington Child Custody Lawyers at Twyford Law Office To Get Legal Assistance Today

An allegation that a parent is unfit is a complicated family court action. Whether you are filing a motion to declare your child’s other parent unfit or you are fighting these allegations, your best chance of success is having experienced legal counsel. A Spokane child custody lawyer is your best source of help with these matters.

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our child custody lawyers or reach out to Twyford Law Office online by visiting our contact us page. You can also visit our office at your nearest location.

Twyford Law Office – Seattle Office
814 Second Avenue, Suite 515,
Seattle, WA 98104

(206) 590-7085

Twyford Law Office – Spokane Office
430 W Indiana Ave,
Spokane, WA 99205

(509) 327 0777

Twyford Law Office – Bellevue Office
1408 140th Pl NE Suite 400,
Bellevue, WA 98007

(425) 517-3350


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