How Wisconsin Defines Unfit Parents in Court

In Wisconsin, children are entitled to two legal parents as this is generally in the best interest of the child. The definition of an unfit parent is one who has been neglectful and/or abusive, failing to properly care for a child. Legally, the most common ground for involuntary termination of parental rights is abandonment.

How Do I Prove The Other Parent is Unfit?

Due to the seriousness of terminating a child's relationship[1] with his or her parents, allegations of unfit parenting are not taken lightly by the Wisconsin court system. Divorcing spouses need to carefully consider whether charges of negligence against the other parent are truly merited, or if they're the result of anger and frustration that often accompanies the end of a marriage.

The state's courts will not look kindly on parents who try to unfairly terminate the rights of the other parent as a punishment for the pain of a divorce. When possible, both parents should be involved in the child's life and have the opportunity to provide a loving environment.

Examples of Unfit Parenting

  • Child abandonment
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug addiction
  • Mental Disturbance
  • Criminal History
  • Refusing to assume responsibility for the care of a child

The courts will prioritize the safety and well being of the child in any custody situation and will consider a parent to be unfit if there is a history or the potential for putting the child in harm's way. The most common reason parental rights are terminated is due to child abandonment, which is defined as the failure of a parent to visit or communicate with the child for three months or longer, without good cause.

If there are questions surrounding the fitness of one parent and the safety of the child or children in question, the burden of proof rests with the parent making the charge. You will need to gather evidence that supports your position such as:

  • medical files documenting injuries
  • photographs and/or video files of abuse,
  • police reports and other criminal records
  • relevant correspondence, email, text messages, social media posts, etc…

If you are concerned about the safety of your child, do not hesitate to contact an experienced family law attorney. They will be able to act quickly on you and your child's behalf and determine the best course of action for your situation.

Determining the Best Interest of the Child

In Wisconsin, to determine child custody and placement, the courts, attorneys and Guardian ad Litem will consider the Best Interest of the Child. Attorney Toby Kinsler explains the Best Interest of The Child statute in the video below.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered an unfit parent?

When a party's ability to parents is questioned, the Court will look to ensure that the children's safety is maintained. Issues that the court views as problematic include:

  • History of drug abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Mental instability
  • Abandonment
  • Child Neglect
  • Criminal History

The Court will require that any allegation of a parent being unfit be proven by providing necessary supporting documentation such as police reports, photographs, medical files or other verifiable documentation.

If you are concerned that your child is in imminent danger, the first point of contact is the police. An Attorney can assist you once you're able to verify that your children are safe.

How do you prove a parent unfit?

The Court will require that any allegation of a parent being unfit be proven by providing necessary supporting documentation such as police reports, photographs, medical files or other verifiable documentation.

Other acceptable forms of evidence include pictures, records of text messages and emails between the parties and any other relevant information pertaining to the both parties.

Even with this documentation, the Court will have to determine whether the risk or wellbeing of the child outweighs the child's benefit of time with their other parent. The court assumes that it is in the best interest of the child to have as much placement with both parents as possible.

How do you prove the best interest of the child?

The courts take several factors into consideration when determining what is in the best interest of a child. First, they will look at safety and if there is a concern with safety at once home versus another.

Secondly, they will look at the child's age. The court generally believes it is in the best interest of the child to reside with the primary caregiver, whether that be mom or dad. When possible, the courts will opt to keep the child's routine the same.

The Courts will also look at the involvement and consistency of each parent in the child's life. This means enrollment in school and the parent's involvement with school activities among other things. There are many factors that courts will consider but these are the general ones.


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