Though many parents don’t feel like they are doing a good enough job, most of them are doing better than they think. However, some caregivers could be deemed legally unfit. The overarching standard for matters relating to minor children is whether their best interests are being served by the decisions being made on their behalf. Matthew Cambó is a family law attorney in Florida who has been recognized by Best Lawyers in America 2022 due to his exceptional focus on serving clients in family law matters. In this article, Cambó discusses what it means to be a legally unfit parent in Florida, and the potential consequences should a caregiver be found to be unfit.
The Legal Definition of an Unfit Parent
According to Florida Statute §751.05, there must be evidence of abuse, neglect, or abandonment for a parent to be found unfit. Here are the definitions of these terms as defined by the State of Florida:
The State of Florida defines abuse as a willful or threatened act that results in physical, mental, or sexual harm that is likely to cause significant damage to the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health. Abuse can be open to interpretation, as corporal discipline does not, in and of itself, imply abuse if no harm is done to the child. Drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness may warrant further investigation by the court to determine whether the existence of either has caused harm to the child. Abuse can include both acts or omissions, which leads us to neglect.
Neglect is defined as not supplying the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or health care when financially capable of doing so. A parent could be found to be neglectful if they did not take reasonable steps to prevent the child from suffering abuse at the hands of another person. If a parent fails to seek medical treatment for a sick child, their decision will undergo the strictest of scrutiny under the circumstances.
Abandonment means that the parent or caregiver has not made a significant contribution to the child’s care or has failed to establish or maintain a substantial positive relationship with the child. Examples include failing to maintain regular and consistent contact with the child while exercising parental rights and responsibilities. Incarceration may constitute abandonment.
What Happens When a Parent is Accused of Being Unfit?
A parent accused of being unfit may be required to attend a hearing if a judge finds that there is sufficient evidence to support the accusations. Evidence might include photos, videos, or testimony from witnesses. During the hearing, the parent will have the opportunity to rebut the allegations against them. A parent who is determined to be unfit by the court may have their parental rights limited, suspended, or revoked, and the child may be placed in the custody of a willing caregiver (e.g., the other parent in the case of divorce) or protective services.
About Matthew Cambó
Matthew Cambó is an associate attorney with Leinoff & Lemos, P.A. He has been recognized by Best Lawyers in America 2022 due to his exceptional focus on serving clients in family law matters. Mr. Cambó has a degree in Political Science and a J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law. He is licensed to practice in Florida and is a member of the Family Law and Young Lawyers sections of the Florida Bar.