How To Prove a Parent is Unfit In Tennessee

Posted by Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC on July 9, 2020

When it comes to adoption or child custody in Tennessee, one major factor the courts will look to in either situation is if the parent in question is fit to care for the child. While the determination of an unfit parent varies from state to state, in Tennessee, the following is how you prove a parent is unfit.

Tennessee Code on Parental Restrictions, Unfit Parents

Tennessee Code Title 36 Annotated 36-6-406 defines both temporary and permanent restrictions on parenting plans. Under the code, the following is used to determine if a parent is unfit to raise a child or maintain custody of a child:

  • The parent has engaged in willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time.
  • Physical or sexual abuse or a pattern of emotional abuse of the parent, child, or of another person in the home has occurred.
  • The parent has been convicted of an adult sexual offense.
  • The parent has neglected to perform parental responsibilities as a result of:
    • An emotional or physical impairment.
    • Drug, alcohol, or other substance abuse.
  • There is a lack of emotional ties between the parent and child.
  • There is abuse that causes damage to the child’s psychological development.
  • The parent has withheld access to the child from the other parent for an amount of time without legal cause.
  • The parent has criminal convictions that do not allow for the parent to care for the child.

Remember, it is often unlikely a parent will get full custody of a child unless there are extreme circumstances like sex crimes against a minor. While these cases vary, it’s important to know that the outcome is always for the best interest of the child. But what does that actually mean?

Best Interest of The Child

The idea of the “best interest of the child” is one we often assume is understood at a fundamental level, however, the actual legal practice behind it is often unmentioned.

In general, the best interest of the child is in reference to a child’s need for stability both in the home location and emotional connections to their parental figures. Other factors include:

  • Performance of parenting responsibilities
  • Ability to provide necessary care/history of providing parental stability
  • Child’s emotional and developmental needs
  • Each parent’s moral, physical, mental, and emotional fitness to parent the child
  • The child’s relationship and connections to other siblings, family members, the community, and school
  • Work schedules
  • Child’s preference

While this is not an exhaustive list of what the court will consider in the child’s best interest, it does target many of the key factors for determining custody and visitation rights when there is a question of parental responsibility and ability.

What happens to an unfit parent?

If a parent is found to be unfit in Tennessee, the court will decide how to modify the child custody agreements. In the case of adoption, the process will likely not go through.

In general, if a parent is found to be unfit, the court will:

  • Deny custody and transfer it to the other parent
  • Modify or deny visitation rights
  • Terminate parental rights of one or both parents
  • If parental rights are terminated for both parties, the child will be placed for adoption. 

When you fear for the well being and safety of your child, know that this isn’t a process to take lightly. The Tennessee family law attorneys of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC can help.

Unfit Parents In Tennessee

If you believe your ex or their new partner is unfit to parent your child, know that you do not have to accept this. If you need to modify your parenting plans or child custody agreement, you need the Tennessee family law attorneys of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.