In Illinois, the concept of ‘child custody’ is now referred to as the ‘allocation of parental responsibilities.’ Under Illinois law (750 ILCS 5/602.5), state courts are required to “allocate decision-making responsibilities according to the child’s best interests.” As a general rule, Illinois courts presume that it is best for a child to have an active, ongoing relationship with both parents.
However, there are exceptions. Unfortunately, some parents are simply not fit to provide care for a child. This raises an important question: How do you prove someone is an unfit parent in Illinois? In this article, our child custody lawyer in Chicago explains the most important things to know about proving that a parent is unfit in Illinois.
Unfit Parent: A Concept Found in Illinois Adoption Law
An unfit parent is one who has been deemed incapable of providing adequate care for a child. It is a concept found in Illinois adoption law—not in a typical custody & visitation dispute. Under 750 ILCS 50/0.01 (Adoption Act), an unfit parent may have their parental rights terminated. The statute lists the following as some notable example for “grounds of unfitness:”
- Failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest in the child’s welfare
- Desertion of a child for more than three months before an adoption proceeding
- Continued and repeated substantial neglect of a child
- Extreme and repeated cruelty towards a child
- Two or more findings of physical abuse of a child
- Failure to protect a child’s welfare from injurious conditions in their environment
- Other neglect or misconduct towards a child
- Habitual drunkenness or addiction to drugs
The concept of parental unfitness sometimes arises in stepparent adoption cases. If you wish to involuntarily terminate the rights of the child’s other biological parent, you may be able to do so by proving that they are an ‘unfit parent.’ That being said, this is restricted to adoption proceedings—meaning it is a potential option only if another person (such as a new stepparent) is in a position to formally adopt the child.
Termination of Parental Rights Without an Adoption Requires State Intervention
As noted above, the legal concept of “parental unfitness” is found in the Illinois Adoption Act. Outside of the adoption process, the parental rights of a mother or father can only be terminated if the state decides to intervene and take control of the process. These are often referred to as “juvenile cases.” In other words, you cannot petition directly to the court to have your former partner deemed “unfit” as part of a divorce filing. Instead, the local State’s Attorney’s office must decide to pursue the matter.
Supervised/Restricted Visitation is Another Option for Parents
If you believe your co-parent is incapable of providing proper care for your child, you have options available even if you are not able to have them declared “unfit” for the purposes of Illinois state law. Under (750 ILCS 5/600(m)), parents can seek supervised visitation. Essentially, this means that a trusted, agreed-upon third party will be present during a parent’s exercise of parenting time. The third party may be a grandparent, other relative, close friend, or even a professional.
Call Our Chicago, IL Child Custody Attorney Today
Michael C. Craven is an experienced Chicago child custody lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns about what you need to do to prove is an unfit parent, we are here to help. Call us now or contact us online for a confidential initial consultation. With an office in Chicago, we provide family law services throughout Illinois.
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