Leaving your child with someone can be frightening, especially if you don’t trust that person. Ultimately, there are reasons you divorced your former spouse, and they may have involved parenting styles.
If a parent is unfit, their parental rights can be revoked. This leaves them with no legal connection to the child. From there, a stepparent or another adult could legally adopt.
Being “unfit” is a specific legal designation, and courts do not take this designation lightly. In California, courts give unfit parents many chances to correct their behavior, especially if that parent truly wants to stay involved.
In this article, we will explore what makes a parent unfit in California and how to remove an unfit parent’s rights. We will also offer tips for co-parenting with someone who isn’t necessarily “unfit,” but their parenting concerns you.
Criteria for an Unfit Parent
An unfit parent directly endangers their child. This endangerment can present itself in many ways. A parent could be neglectful or abusive. Perhaps they don’t directly harm their kids, but they commit domestic violence (to another adult) in front of the kids. Unfit parents may have substance abuse problems, or they could be incarcerated. If the parent suffers from a mental illness that directly harms the kids, they could also be unfit.
The Process for Removing an Unfit Parent’s Rights
First, you must plead to the courts. Like any legal matter, evidence is more valuable than your word. You should be ready with direct, provable examples of the parent’s behavior. You and your attorney are building a case against this parent, much as you would in a criminal or civil case.
The unfit parent also has a right to defend themselves against your claims. Be prepared for counterarguments, and make sure your evidence is tighter and more compelling than theirs.
Redeeming an Unfit Parent
Sometimes, unfit parents are simply struggling and want to do the right thing. Unfit parents can fight back against accusations, and the state gives them plenty of room to do so.
The state is willing to work with an unfit parent who truly wants to change. Child Welfare Services may assign a safety plan. It will outline the steps a parent must take to retain their parental rights. The CWS will monitor the parent’s progress and ultimately determine if the parent is making progress.
In the meantime, CWS should also work with the responsible, fit parent to ensure the child’s safety. For instance, the unfit parent may be barred from direct possession until they complete the plan. They may be allowed supervised visits or be completely cut off from the kids until they show improvement.
If the monitored parent follows the plan and creates a safe environment for the kids, the CWS can clear them. The parent will no longer be required to follow a plan. This can be helpful in the future, should further custody disputes or fitness questions arise.
If, however, the parent fails the plan, the state can more easily revoke parental rights. This is especially true if the kids have a fit, legal parent to whom they can be released.
Keep in mind, the state revokes a parent’s rights only as a last resort. It will give an unfit parent many chances before finally terminating their rights.
What If I Think My Ex’s Parenting Is Just Bad?
Being a sloppy parent isn’t the same as being an “unfit” parent. You may have genuine concerns about your ex’s parenting, but if they aren’t directly endangering the kids, there isn’t much you can do.
Ultimately, the state trusts a parent with direct possession of the kids. It isn’t interested in getting into the nitty-gritty of someone’s parenting style. If the kids’ other parent, for instance, doesn’t put much emphasis on education, that’s not directly abusive behavior. You can’t step in and force the other adult to focus on schooling.
You can, however, revisit your parenting plan. Within a parenting plan, you must designate decision-making powers over healthcare and education. If, for instance, education is highly important to you, you can have sole power over educational matters.
Your parenting plan can include anything that’s important to you, from the kids’ entertainment to their dietary plans. If you’re concerned about your ex’s parenting, you can renegotiate the plan with them. Anything that’s included in the plan becomes part of the official court record. If your ex refuses to follow the plan, they can suffer legal consequences.
Of course, such negotiations are often easier said than done. You may want to consider using a mediator to help with these discussions. These legal professionals are specially trained in negotiation. They can help both sides properly listen and express their needs.
If you have concerns about your former spouse’s parenting, reach out to us for help. For a consultation, call (949) 565-4158 or fill out our online contact form.