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How to Prove an Unfit Parent in NY

Posted on March 24, 2020

Just because you don’t see eye-to-eye with your ex over parenting skills doesn’t automatically mean they’re an unfit parent. It’s common for parents—even those who are still together to disagree on whether kids should have to earn their allowance or finish all their dinner before leaving the table, along with bigger issues like curfews, homework, and discipline.

In divorce situations, it’s always more complicated. Bitterness over terms of the divorce can cause one parent to be especially critical of how their ex is raising a child. What happens, though, when a parent is truly unfit to be caring for and raising a child? How do you prove it—and when do the courts intervene?

How an unfit parent is defined in New York

In any issues involving children in a custody case, the courts always look to the “best interests of the child” standard. If you are already divorced or have been through the custody proceeding, you know that the judge took into account a number of factors, including the finances of each parent, keeping siblings together, and who has been the child’s primary caretaker. They also looked for evidence of serious problems on the part of a parent, including substance abuse or domestic violence.

If you are divorced or have an order of custody or are seeking a divorce or will be filing a petition for custody and parenting time and are concerned about your child’s welfare during any time spent with their other parent, your first step should be to gather evidence to prove that your spouse or ex-spouse is an unfit parent. A well-documented history could include:

  • Medical records of any treatment for your child’s injuries that may be related to abuse or neglect
  • Photos, videos or audio evidence of abuse or neglect
  • Emails, texts or voicemails that cause concern

Behaviors of an unfit parent

Every child deserves a safe and stable home. When a parent is unfit, the child’s best interests (the paramount factor for the courts) are not being met and are harmful to your child’s well-being. Here are some of the specific behaviors that the court will look at when considering whether a parent is not fit:

  • Drug use or alcohol abuse: A parent’s alcoholism or substance abuse/drug addiction
  • Abuse: Substantiated allegations or evidence of physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse
  • Neglect: Neglect is sometimes referred to as “abuse by omission” and may include medical neglect (failing to seek or provide adequate medical treatment), physical neglect (failure to provide adequate nutrition, shelter, clothing, supervision, and a safe, clean environment), educational neglect (failing to enroll a child in school, provide education or special education, or allowing too many absences) and emotional neglect (failure to provide appropriate love, affection, and support).
  • Mental illness that renders a parent incapable of raising a child in a safe and secure manner
  • Incarceration: An imprisoned parent, particularly one convicted of a violent crime
  • Poor judgment: This may include anything from a parent who leaves children unsupervised or under the supervision of an inappropriate caregiver, who habitually misses visitation, who exposes them to criminal activity or otherwise engages in behaviors that put children at risk

Where to turn for help

If you fear that your child is being harmed by neglect, abuse or other behaviors on the part of their other parent, it’s important to act quickly. Our New York City child custody attorneys can assist you in gathering evidence and documentation and representing your best interests—and especially your child’s best interests—in an unfit parent matter. To learn more, contact us online or call us at (212) 349-1600 to schedule a confidential consultation.