Divorce is hard, to say the least. But when children are involved, things get much more difficult. Sit in on any New Jersey child custody proceeding and you'll almost always see a nasty mudslinging fight fraught with allegations and character assaults. Each parent and their representation wants to “win” by discrediting the other, and when one or both parents' fitness comes into question, the stakes get high.
Most New Jersey courts begin proceedings with the belief that each child is happiest when they get to spend ample time with both parents. But whether a custody and visitation schedule that reflects this ideal can be enforced hinges on the circumstances. If one or both parents are attempting to prove that the other is “unfit,” the outcome can be devastating.
Defining an “Unfit Parent” in New Jersey
According to New Jersey law, an unfit parent is one who is incapable of providing a safe and nurturing environment for their child. Furthermore, this parent's inability to maintain a trusted environment may but put the child at risk of physical, emotional, or psychological harm. Although each case will be evaluated based on its unique circumstances, there are a number of grounds for finding a parent unfit. They may include:
- A history of dangerous, violent, or reckless behavior
- Mental health issues
- Issues with substance abuse and/or addiction
- Prior issues that involve, child abuse, neglect, endangerment, etc.
As straightforward as these grounds may seem, many judges find themselves presiding over cases where there are many “gray” areas that make identifying a potentially harmful situation or parent tough. Also, the court requires there to be sufficient evidence of such grounds before deeming a parent unfit. Solid evidence of the unfitness of a parent may be a medical exam that indicates a pattern of abuse, a psychological evaluation, drug and alcohol screenings, domestic violent reports, or any other proof that one or both parents have an issue that would jeopardize the welfare of their child.
Once the court determines a parent is unfit, what happens next? Well, it is likely that this characterization will impact the custody agreement. Most unfit parents are granted reduced or no parenting time, but this isn't always the case. Some judges may see it necessary to let an unfit parent visit their child under supervision.
Unfit parents also tend to lose legal custody of their children. This means that they can't make major decisions on behalf of their child. If you feel like you've been unfairly stripped of your parental rights, it's best you contact an attorney.
New Jersey Family Law Attorney
In child custody disputes where you are accused of being unfit, the representation of a seasoned legal professional is required. Navigating the New Jersey legal process without legal advice is risky. And with so much at stake, you need the assistance of someone who can turn the odds in your favor.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm has helped parents facing accusations of unfitness prove that they're worthy of being in their child's life. Schedule a consultation today online or by phone at 888-535-3686.