A parent is unfit for custody in Columbia when they are neglectful or abusive. Child custody is determined in divorce, separation, and paternity cases. In most of these cases, it is incredibly important to both parents that they spend time with their children and have custody. While parents can work together for their children in many cases, this is not always possible. Contentious relationships, including those where one parent is in danger from the other, prevent compromises from being made. A Columbia child custody attorney can help you navigate these difficult cases.

The term “unfit parent” does not refer to a parent who is imperfect in how they raise their child. Instead, it is a legal term meaning that a parent puts their child in danger or risks their mental or emotional health in some way.

When a parent is deemed unfit, the court may then provide sole custody to the other parent. An unfit parent may receive limited visitation, or the court may terminate their parental rights in extreme cases. If both parents are unfit, the court may consider other third-party custody options, like close family members.

How Do the Columbia Courts Determine Custody?

Columbia courts determine custody based on a few factors. The family court always holds a child’s interests as the priority when making any custody or support decisions. In Missouri, it is assumed to be in a child’s interest to spend frequent and meaningful time with both of their legal and biological parents.

Based on this legal assumption, the court will assign joint custody to both parents unless there is evidence to suggest that this is not in the child’s interests. This includes legal custody, or a parent’s ability to make decisions for their child, and physical custody, or where a child resides.

When determining what is in the child’s interests, the court will look at some of the following factors:

  • Each parent’s ability to care for their child’s basic needs
  • The child’s basic and unique needs
  • The age, mental health, and physical health of the child
  • The mental and physical health of both parents
  • The child’s relationship with each of their parents
  • The importance of these continued relationships between parents and child
  • Any parenting plan that has been proposed
  • The child’s relationships and connection with siblings and other family members or individuals
  • The child’s wishes for custody
  • Whether one parent is more likely to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • Either parent’s history of continued and untreated substance abuse
  • Either parent’s history of domestic violence or abuse

If there is a preponderance of evidence that it is not in a child’s interests to be in the custody of one of their parents, the court will consider other custody arrangements.

When Is a Parent Considered Unfit?

A parent is considered unfit for custody of their child when their care would cause the child physical, emotional, or psychological harm. They are also unfit when they actively put their child in danger. The exact actions that result in a parent being considered unfit depend on the family’s situation. Often, a parent will be considered unfit for reasons such as:

  • Being able but unwilling to provide for the child’s basic needs, such as shelter, food, clothing, and healthcare
  • Having a continued, untreated, and dangerous substance abuse disorder
  • Having an untreated and dangerous mental health disorder
  • Having convictions for violent felonies and/or crimes against children
  • A history of domestic violence against other family members and/or in front of the child
  • A history of child abuse against any of their children

If a child is afraid or uncomfortable around a parent, this may result in the court deeming the parent unfit for custody. If one parent is petitioning for sole custody on the grounds of the other parent being unfit, the petitioning parent has the burden of proof. An attorney can help parents attempting to prove that another parent is unfit for child custody.


Q: What Do Judges Look for in Child Custody Cases in Missouri?

A: In child custody cases in Missouri, judges look for what will be in the best interests of the child. The priority of the family law judge in a child custody case is the child’s interests. In Missouri, it is assumed that it is in a child’s interests to spend continued time with both parents unless shown otherwise. The court has a legal preference for joint custody that can then be altered by factors that include, but are not limited to:

  • The child’s age, health, and relationship with each parent
  • The child’s relationships and connection with their siblings, other meaningful individuals, and family members
  • Each parent’s capabilities to care for their child’s basic needs
  • Any history of domestic violence, untreated mental illness, or continued substance abuse

Q: How Can a Mother Lose Custody of Her Child in Missouri?

A: Either parent can lose custody of their children if they are deemed an unfit parent. An unfit parent is a legal term for a parent who has endangered their child’s mental or physical well-being or has placed them in danger. When a parent commits criminal acts, like abuse or domestic violence, or is convicted of a violent felony, the court may involuntarily revoke their parental rights. This may be done if the court has already assigned custody rights to a parent.

Q: What Is the New Child Custody Law in Missouri in 2023?

A: Missouri family courts have tended to prefer joint custody for separated parents, but this was only a preference and not a legal assumption. As of 2023, it is officially a legal preference for joint custody, as continued and meaningful time spent with both parents is considered in the child’s interests. If there is a preponderance of evidence that joint custody is not in the child’s interests, then the court can look at other potential custody arrangements.

Q: At What Age Can a Child Choose Not to See a Parent in Missouri?

A: A child can express their preference for custody, but they can only choose where and who they live with once they are a legal adult at 18 or are emancipated. Before either of those events, the court will consider a child’s wishes for custody, but it does not have to obey these wishes if they contradict the child’s interests.

In Missouri, the court is more likely to listen to the wishes of children over the age of 12. If a child refuses to follow a court-ordered custody arrangement, enforcement or order modification may be necessary.

Find the Right Option for Your Family

Child custody can be a stressful situation. You may be defending yourself against an accusation of unfitness, or you might be trying to prove that your co-parent is not able to care for your children. An experienced family law attorney can help. Contact Stange Law Firm today.