In Colorado, most divorcing parents are given some form of shared custody. The official court term for this is the Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, meaning that each parent shares physical custody, and legal custody. The latter is the ability to make important decisions and judgments on behalf of the child.
In rare cases, however, one parent will receive both sole physical and legal custody. For this to happen, the other party must be deemed unfit.
How is a Parent Determined to be Unfit in Colorado
Such decisions are not taken lightly by courts. Most judges prefer that parents be allowed to be a presence in the life of their child. It takes something quite serious for the courts to declare someone an unfit parent.
Generally, a parent is declared unfit when they were unable to meet their child’s emotional or physical needs, or they endangered the child.
The following factors may prompt the courts to declare a parent unfit:
- Child neglect
- Physical abuse and injury to the child
- Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
- Parent’s history of domestic violence and/or assaults
- Presence of a mental illness that renders the parent unable to care for their child.
It's important to be clear that not every one of these offenses will guarantee that a parent is declared unfit.
For example, a parent who once had a drug or alcohol problem that has successfully obtained treatment is not likely to be declared unfit. The same applies to a parent who has completed parenting classes and fulfilled other requirements after social services involvement.
What Happens When a Parent is Declared Unfit?
When the courts determine that a parent is unfit, they will award the other parent sole custody. This means that the child will live with that parent full-time. That parent will also be given full legal authority to make all decisions on behalf of the child.
It is important to understand that being declared unfit is not the same as having parental rights terminated. In Colorado, an unfit parent may still be able to gain limited or supervised visitation. The courts generally believe that children may benefit from some relationship with an unfit parent. When parental rights are terminated, the affected person is no longer considered to be the child’s parent.
How Can a Parent Redeem Their Status
As a parent, it can be devastating to hear that the courts believe you are unfit to provide care and love to your children. But don't let emotions take over your judgments.
Keep in mind that despite the ‘unfit’ label, you are still a legal parent in the eyes of the court (your rights have not been terminated). Thus, you can take proactive steps to prove that you are a good caregiver. If you successfully appeal the initial decision, your parental responsibilities will be reestablished.
Also, there may be things you can do to prove you are a fit parent. If you do this, your rights may be reestablished. Depending on your situation, doing the following may help.
- Attending parenting classes
- Complying with all court orders
- Obtaining steady employment
- Receiving treatment for drug or alcohol dependency
- Seeking and complying with mental health services.
- Attending all court hearings
If you are involved in a divorce or custody case where there are allegations that one or both parents are unfit, you should obtain the advice of a Colorado family attorney. They are in the best possible position to help you achieve the best possible outcome.