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Threatening your relationship with your children is one of the worst things your spouse can do to you during a divorce. Unfortunately, it isn't that uncommon for one spouse to swear that he or she will gain full custody by any means necessary. You may even hear your spouse declare, loudly and to anyone who will listen, that you're "unfit" to be a parent.

Fortunately, what your spouse believes isn't that important. What's important is what the court believes -- and family courts aren't usually in a hurry to sever the parent-child relationship. In order for your spouse (or ex-spouse) to get a court to declare you an "unfit parent," there has to be substantial evidence of at least one of the following things:

  • You have made no attempt to stay in contact with your children and provided no support. Actually having contact with your children isn't necessary. If the other parent blocked your attempts, you can't be considered unfit.
  • You physically abandoned your children to the care of others for some reason.
  • You repeatedly abused or neglected your children. Even if you made a serious mistake as a parent, the court won't generally declare you an unfit parent for one incident unless it is extreme.
  • You sexually abused your children or were convicted of other sexually-related offenses.
  • You have a chronic mental illness that is not treatable and it prevents you from acting as a parent to your children.
  • You have a long-term drug or alcohol addiction that interferes with your ability to parent.

In addition, the court is not going to simply accept your ex's word for the situation.

In other words, if your spouse goes into court to allege that you are mentally ill, he or she had better have proof not only that you are mentally ill but that the illness prevents you from taking proper care of the children. If, for example, you suffer from bi-polar disorder, that doesn't automatically make you an unfit parent. If you take medication, get therapy and generally manage to be a good parent, the court takes that into consideration.

Don't let your spouse scare you into giving up your custody rights with threats. It takes a lot more than words to convince a judge that a parent is actually unfit.

Source: childwelfare.gov, "Grounds for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights," accessed March 30, 2018

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