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Parental fitness and child custody

A divorce can trigger ugly emotions for one or both spouses, especially if young children are involved. In some divorce cases in Sacramento County, one or both spouses will accuse the other of being an "unfit" parent. On some occasions, this accusation is merely the product of one spouse's anger toward the other spouse. On others, it is an attempt to injure the other spouse by preventing access to the children. And, on some occasions, the accusations are true. What happens then?

Judges do not like divorcing parents to use the courtroom as a battleground, and this preference applies very strongly in cases in which the parents are disputing child custody or visitation. In the event that one parent has valid concerns about the parental fitness of the other parent, certain guidelines should be followed. First, it is not enough to merely present personal "venom" as evidence. Anyone who wants to influence the court's decision must present information from third parties about the relative fitness of the two parents.

Evidence in custody cases falls into two categories: negative and affirmative. Negative evidence is intended to show that the other parent has demonstrated an unfitness to take care of the children. Such evidence may consist of the record of a conviction for a serious crime, such as domestic abuse or drug crimes. Affirmative evidence may consist of showing that the one parent is more reliable in meeting the children's needs or is financially able to provide for their care. Evidence that the home environment is stable and supportive of the children's needs is also persuasive.

In the end, the court will decide the issue on the basis of which parent can better serve the best interests of the child. Many factors go into this determination, but a verbal tongue-lashing of the other parent is not likely to ensure a favorable outcome. Anyone who is facing a divorce in which child custody will be an issue may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for advice on the evidence that the court is likely to consider and how that evidence will affect the outcome.

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