Even married couples may disagree on different aspects of child-rearing. Everything from bedtime or curfews to homework or household chores can be points of contention. When couples divorce, however, these disagreements often become weapons that one parent uses against another, with accusations that the other parent is unfit.
Accusations are one thing. Proving it is another. Putting your children in the middle of a combative divorce is harmful to your child’s mental and emotional health. Moreover, an unfounded, groundless accusation amounts to “bearing false witness” and is against the law. If you have legitimate reasons to be concerned about your child’s welfare when they are with your ex-spouse, there are steps you can (and should) take in Oklahoma courts.
How the Oklahoma “best interests of the child” standard applies in proving an unfit parent
As in most other states, the Oklahoma law favors “co-parenting” of children as it is generally found to encourage and foster a child’s positive mental and emotional health and ensure security and happiness. This is the basis for the “best interests of the child” standard that courts apply in decisions regarding a parenting plan, custody and visitation. In Oklahoma, a parent who does not meet the criteria of best interests, who exhibits “parental unfitness or unsuitability,” is one who has:
- Chemical or alcohol dependency, for which treatment has not been sought or for which treatment has been unsuccessful
- A history of violent behavior or domestic abuse
- An emotional or mental illness that demonstrably impairs judgment or capacity to recognize reality or to control behavior
- Failed to provide the child with proper care, guidance and support to the actual detriment of the child. The provisions of this division include, but are not limited to, parental indifference and parental influence on his or her child or lack thereof that exposes such child to unreasonable risk
- Demonstrated conduct or condition which renders him or her unable or unwilling to give a child reasonable parental care. Reasonable parental care requires, at a minimum, that the parent provides nurturing and protection adequate to meet the child’s physical, emotional and mental health
In addition, the courts presume a parent is unfit if he or she is a registered sex offender, has been convicted of or is residing with a person convicted of domestic violence within the last five years, or has been convicted of child sex abuse, child endangerment, incest, child pornography, keeping or procuring a child for prostitution, or first-degree rape.
The most important way to prove that a parent is unfit is to gather evidence that can be used as documentation of the other parent’s behavior that clearly shows they are unfit. This includes:
- Records of medical treatment for your child’s injuries that may be related to abuse or neglect (for example: bruises or contusions that can’t be explained/don’t match your child’s story, burn marks, injuries at different stages of healing, untreated medical or dental issues)
- Photos, videos, or audio evidence of abuse or neglect
- Emails, texts, or voicemails that cause concern
- Arrest records, domestic violence police reports, prior criminal convictions
If you are concerned about your child’s safety, contact us immediately
Skilled Norman, Oklahoma family law attorney RJ Harris can help protect your child from abuse, neglect or dangerous behaviors on the part of a parent. If you need help, please call the Norman, Oklahoma office of Patriot Law at (405) 979-0179 or contact us online to set up a confidential consultation.