What Makes a Mother Unfit in the Eyes of the Court?

What Makes a Mother Unfit in the Eyes of the Court?
A mother who has failed to properly care for, support, or guide the child, a mother who has neglected or abused the child, or a mother who abuses drugs/alcohol is deemed by the court as an unfit mother. A court can pronounce a mother unfit if it is convinced by the evidence presented by the other spouse. Such evidence includes:

  1. Therapist testimony or medical records that prove that the mother suffers from a mental condition and that this condition makes her unfit of providing for the child’s physical and psychological needs
  2. Testimonies from counselors, teachers, and other people who regularly interact with the child that confirm (1) above
  3. A police report or medical records that prove that the mother abused the child in any way – psychologically, physically, or sexually
  4. A police report or medical evaluation records, and a history of drug charges, if available, that mention that the mother is addicted to or a frequent consumer of drugs/alcohol
  5. Any evidence that proves the mother cannot take care of the child: for example, insufficient bank balance to take care of the daily needs, a child that is starving or is living in an unhygienic environment
  6. A police report or criminal record that proves that the mother has criminal behavioral problems, or is a violent or negative person to the point that the negativity adversely affects the child’s psyche.
  7. Prison records that prove that the mother violent, a serious safety risk to the child, or is in prison and therefore cannot take care of the child
  8. Photographs or video recordings that prove, or a character witness who testifies, that the mother exposed the child to pornographic material

Relying on an Evaluator

If the evidence for any of the points mentioned above is not available or insufficient, but the court is convinced that the case requires investigation, the court can order a custody evaluation to decide if the mother is unfit to care for the child. For example, courts in Utah can appoint an evaluator to look into the following issues:

  1. Whether the mother sets suitable restrictions based on the age of the child. For example, restricting access to online adult content, setting bedtimes, restricting harmful activities such as watching TV for long hours, spending hours playing online games, and more
  2. Whether the mother understands the child’s physical and emotional needs, and whether she is capable of providing for them
  3. Whether the mother neglects or abuses the child, or fails to provide appropriate medical treatment for the child (such as a dental checkup or vaccinations)
  4. Whether the mother is capable of providing a clean home, safe environment, healthy and adequate food, and appropriate clothing to the child
  5. Whether the mother stops or restricts the father from meeting with the child
  6. Whether the mother can handle any conflict situation between her child and other children/individuals
  7. Whether the mother’s track record of taking care of her child proves that she is a fit mother
  8. The extent to which the mother gets actively involved to make sure that the child’s needs have been fulfilled
  9. Child’s bond with the mother

After considering the evidence, the evaluator’s report, or both, the judge can still appoint an attorney, called a guardian ad litem, to represent a minor child in a high-conflict case. That is because the court wants to ensure that the child is heard in such cases.

After that, the court takes a holistic view of the case and judges if the mother is fit or unfit.

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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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