In Illinois courts, as in family courts throughout the nation, the court’s primary function is to achieve what is in the best interests of the children involved. As a result, Illinois family law courts generally opt to allow both parents to continue participating in their children’s lives. Unfortunately, in situations where remaining in the care of a parent would result in abuse, neglect, or other harm to the children, the children’s best interests may involve declaring a parent unfit.
Ramifications of Unfit Parent Accusations
While the state of Illinois prefers to allow children to remain with their parents, as mentioned above, accusations of unfit parents in Illinois require action. The courts must perform a thorough investigation of abuse or negligence claims to prevent children from continuing to experience these dangerous conditions. However, Illinois courts require sufficient and convincing evidence to terminate or limit parental rights.
If you fear children in your life are exposed to an unfit parent in IL, it is essential to learn as much as possible about what is required to declare a parent unfit and reduce or terminate their parental rights. Similarly, if you have been accused of being an unfit parent, you must understand what is necessary to defend yourself. In either situation, hiring a Bloomington, IL, child custody lawyer is an important first step.
What Is the Definition of an Unfit Parent in Illinois?
In general, an unfit parent is one who has been determined not to have their children’s best interest in mind. However, as nearly every state has its own definition of what constitutes an unfit parent, individuals living in Illinois must refer to the guidelines set forth by the Illinois Adoption Act. This statute outlines several situations that may show a parent is unfit, including:
- Physical and/or emotional abuse
- Child abandonment
- General disinterest in and lack of responsibility for the child’s well-being
- Otherwise placing children in an unsafe living situation
- Substance abuse problems that result in any of the above
- Mental illness that results in any of the above
In substance abuse or severe mental illness cases, Illinois courts consider these risk factors for parental unfitness. As a result, parents presenting these risk factors are presumed unfit until they can provide evidence otherwise. Similarly, parents convicted of three felonies, or parents convicted of certain crimes, including sexual abuse and assault, may be assumed to exhibit criminal depravity and must prove otherwise.
Proof of an Unfit Parent in Illinois
In a situation where a child’s best interests and parental rights are involved, Illinois courts must hear sufficient evidence of fitness or unfitness to make the best decision for the child. Unless the situation is extreme, most courts will not terminate parental rights entirely but may limit these rights to protect the children involved. As a result, it is essential to provide as much evidence as possible that does not involve hearsay or your personal opinion. A Bloomington, IL, family law attorney can help you gather useful evidence, including:
- Medical documentation of injuries or illness resulting from the home
- Police reports
- Photo or video documentation of abuse or living conditions
- Any relevant communication regarding the situation
It is extremely important to note that lapsed child support payments, disagreements about parenting styles, and infidelity are not proof of parental unfitness in Illinois. Unfairly alleging parental unfitness in these situations is taken very seriously and may harm the unfit parent case. Even with tangible proof as listed above, the court may determine that remaining in contact with both parents is best for the children.
Illinois Parental Rights Termination Hearings
In some situations, Illinois may elect to pursue termination of parental rights. If this is the case, a hearing will take place in Illinois juvenile court. The state must notify the parent of this hearing in advance and will appoint an attorney if the parent in question does not choose to hire their own Bloomington child custody attorney.
For example, if a parent fails to meet specific goals previously set forth by the courts—such as failing to follow advice from a social worker—the state may move to terminate or alter parental rights. Even if the parent has experienced extenuating circumstances that prevented them from following through, the child’s best interests must come first.
Secure a Bloomington, IL, Child Custody Lawyer
Enduring accusations of unfit parenting can be emotional and stressful. Similarly, believing children are exposed to a potentially harmful living situation can be terrifying. If either is the case for you and the children in your life, contact a skilled family law attorney as soon as possible, so you can move forward with the necessary insights in hand. Call Stange Law Firm at (855) 055-0595 or reach out online to learn more about how you can protect your children and your parental rights.