During a contentious custody dispute, one party may accuse the other of being an unfit parent. The term “unfit parent” can be used in casual conversation and may be interpreted in a number of ways. However, under Illinois law, being an unfit parent has a specific definition and severe consequences.
How Judges Make Custody and Visitation Decisions
Under the changes to Illinois family law set to take effect January 1, 2016, the family law system is moving away from the concept of custody to a more detailed description of parental responsibilities. However, the children will still reside primarily with a single parent in most cases.
When the two sides cannot come to an agreement regarding where the children should live or how much parenting time the other parent should have, the court will usually order a custody study. A neutral professional will meet with the children, the parents, and anyone else who may have useful information, and make a recommendation to the court.
Both sides have a chance to introduce evidence and argue with any of the conclusions of the custody study. The judge will base his or her decision on what is in the best interests of the children.
What Makes a Parent Unfit to Have Custody or Parenting Time?
Often, both sides will have different ideas about what is in the best interests of the child. They may not think the other parent is fit to have the children. Under Illinois law, a parent may be unfit if:
- There is a substance abuse problem;
- Physical, sexual, or psychological abuse occurs;
- There has been a history of neglect;
- One parent has certain criminal convictions; or
- Anyone has failed to protect a child from dangerous conditions.
The law allows judges to consider a wide range of evidence in making decisions about who should be the primary caretaker of a child. Judges must balance the importance of having a relationship with a parent with the child’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
For example, some serious mental illnesses may make a parent unfit as a primary caretaker. But, if the parent undergoes proper treatment and takes appropriate medication, the parent may be a fit parent to act as a primary caretaker or for parenting time purposes.
A court does not make a decision to limit or completely cutoff parenting time lightly.
If you are involved in a custody dispute you need advice from a DuPage County family law lawyer with experience dealing with tough custody issues. Call Sullivan Taylor & Gumina, P.C. today at 630-665-7676 to schedule a consultation today.