What Does it Mean to Be an Unfit Parent in Pennsylvania?

Young boy glued to the wall with duct tape, so daddy can relax and have a beer

Sometimes custody battles get contentious, and parents start throwing accusations around. One of the accusations that we hear the most is that one of the parents is “unfit.”

If a parent is proven unfit, the other parent will gain sole physical and perhaps even sole legal custody of the child.

“Unfit” is a very specific designation.

Take heart: “unfit” doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means. If your spouse is declaring you “unfit” and you don’t fall into one of three categories, he or she is actually going to hurt his or her own case.

Judges in Pennsylvania know kids need both their parents. Ploys to try to write the other parent out of the child’s life are taken seriously. The move might backfire, and win your case for you.

Here are the three categories of unfit parents.

Parents with substance abuse problems.

If your ex accuses you of substance abuse the court will order drug screens for both of you.

If your ex is trying to use this accusation to modify an existing order he or she would also have to prove that there’s risk of imminent harm.

If you are struggling with substance abuse, producing evidence that you’re actively pursuing treatment and are complying with the demands of your program can show that you’re not unfit. You’re just a person with a problem.

Parents with severe, untreated mental health issues.

1 in 5 adults suffer from some form of mental illness. As awareness has grown, stigma has reduced.

So having a mental illness alone isn’t enough to bar you from custody. Even if you’ve got a severe problem, producing evidence that seeking treatment and are compliant with your care provider’s recommendations can be enough to overturn an accusation.

You’ll also want to demonstrate what you’ve done to create a safe environment for your child, but a diagnosis alone isn’t going to harm your case.

Parents with a record of domestic abuse.

Domestic violence is a serious issue. It is, sadly, sometimes used as a weapon by vindictive spouses.

If you’ve been falsely accused, remember that proving domestic violence is harder than your spouse thinks it’s going to be. The court may order investigations by professionals trained to spot when abuse does, and does not, exist.

False accusations often backfire, as they can show the court that your ex is attempting to engage in parental alienation.

What happens if a parent is proven to be unfit?

Less than the accusing parent thinks. Less than you might think, too, even if you really have the problems above.

While the accusing parent might get sole physical custody, you would still be entitled to parenting time. If the court felt there were a danger to your child, that time might be supervised, requiring a third-party professional.

But as you corrected issues, you could then go back to modify the child custody order, giving you the opportunity to be more of a co-parent. This determination does not, as television shows suggest, create a situation where you never see your kids again unless you choose to back off and move out of reach.

Remember: the courts favor co-parenting to the greatest degree possible. If it were safe and possible to do so, they’d prefer to give each parent in every case 50/50 access to their children.

Still, it’s best to prevent the courts from making this determination. If you’re facing a difficult child custody situation, contact us so we can look at your case and determine what you need to do to get the best possible outcome.

See also:

How Mental Illness Can Impact a Custody Case

8 Things to Avoid During Your Pennsylvania Custody Battle

What is Parental Alienation?

Why Your Temper is the Biggest Liability in Your Custody Case

What You Need to Know About Supervised Visitation


Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

Free Case Evaluation