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What Does "Unfit Parent" Really Mean?

Posted on in Divorce

Will County child custody lawyerDuring a divorce, it is not uncommon for one parent to claim that the other is an unfit parent in an effort to get sole custody. You may be reading this because your (soon to be ex) spouse has called you an unfit parent and threatened to take sole custody of the children. If this is your situation, you should know that your spouse is not very likely to succeed. Unless you have truly endangered or harmed the children and there is proof, it is exceedingly rare for a court to deem one parent unfit and award the other sole custody. However, hearing your spouse refer to you this way can be incredibly hurtful and alarming. Our attorneys are ready to step in and fight for you and your children. 

Defining “Unfit Parent” in Illinois

In Illinois, the definition of an unfit parent is relatively vague. Our state law says that an unfit parent is one who cannot be trusted to take care of a child. For you to lose custody and visitation rights, your child’s other parent would have to prove that there is a specific reason that you should not have access to your children. Reasons a parent may be deemed unfit include: 

  • Abuse - A parent who is physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive or otherwise cruel towards the child, such that the child is not likely to benefit from a continued relationship with that parent


Joliet paternity lawyerIt is common for the mother of a child to initiate a parentage case, hoping to positively identify her child’s father and seek child support. It is a bit less common for such a case to be opened by a father, but in Illinois, either parent - or alleged parent - can petition a court to declare parentage. Fathers often do so when the mother of the child they believe is theirs is not letting them see the child. Establishing paternity opens the door for a father to seek court-ordered time with his child. This sometimes happens when the mother and father have broken up or were never romantically involved beyond a casual sexual relationship. If you believe that you are the father of a child, you do have the right to seek a court order declaring you are the parent. An attorney can help you take the right steps. 

How Can I Ask the Court to Declare Parentage as a Father?

Establishing yourself as your child’s father is the first step toward gaining the legal right to be a part of their life. Once you are declared the father, you can start seeking joint custody rights so that you can enjoy a meaningful relationship with your child. 

 Illinois offers two different forms for those seeking to open a parentage action - one for mothers, and one for fathers. You will start by completing this petition form asserting that you are the child’s father. Your attorney will help you file it with the right court. 


illinois divorce lawyerThis is a fairly common question - and the answer is yes, you can divorce your spouse while they are incarcerated. There may be a few extra steps and some complications, but it can be done. In fact, you may have somewhat of an advantage in your divorce if your spouse is currently locked up. Prisons and jails rarely, if ever, allow inmates to appear in divorce court. Your spouse can retain their own attorney to represent them, however. Especially if your spouse is incarcerated for a crime against you or your children, like domestic violence or child abuse, it may be much safer to get your divorce while they are locked up. An attorney can help you through the process of divorcing an inmate in prison or jail. 

How Can I Divorce Someone Who is Locked Up?

Your spouse can be served with your divorce papers while they are incarcerated. In fact, it is even easier to serve an incarcerated individual - they will not be able to claim that they did not receive the divorce petition. Your attorney will need to find your spouse’s inmate number in order to do this. 

After that, you will largely proceed with the divorce as you usually would. If your spouse retains an attorney, almost all of your communication with your spouse will go through their lawyer. 


homewood-divorce-lawyer.jpgOne of the few reasons that divorced parents still need to see each other is to make custody exchanges. Generally, both parents need to be present at a child custody handoff unless there is an agreed-on third party with authorization to pick up or drop off a child. For parents whose divorce is still pending, these exchanges can be very tense. Both parents may be tempted to use child exchanges as a time to find fault in the other parent. For those whose divorce is far from amicable, handing off a child can even turn into an argument. It is important for both parents to know how to handle handing off a child in order to avoid further upsetting the child. When parents work together to put the child first despite their differences, the child is more likely to have a relatively smooth adjustment. 

Ways to Keep a Child Custody Exchange Safe and Civil

While not upsetting the child further is important, nothing is more important than safety for everyone involved. Some tips you may find helpful include: 

  • Do not talk divorce - This is not the time to try to negotiate the terms of your divorce. That should be done with attorneys present. Resist the urge to bring up any points of disagreement regarding your divorce or your child custody proceedings. 


will-county-prenuptial-agreement-attorney.jpgPrenuptial agreements can be a great tool during divorce proceedings. Spouses who have one in place often find that their divorce goes much quicker and smoother than it would have without one. Those who have prenuptial agreements are likely to be able to file an uncontested divorce, as most of the divorce terms are likely already agreed upon. However, an unfair prenuptial agreement can serve as a roadblock to divorce. Women are more likely to be disfavored in a prenuptial agreement than men and are less likely to seek a divorce if they believe that their prenuptial agreement will leave them high and dry. However, there are circumstances where an Illinois court will refuse to enforce a prenuptial agreement that is drastically unfair to one party. If your prenuptial agreement is the main reason you are hesitant to get a divorce, you should consult an attorney to find out whether yours could be set aside. 

When Will Illinois Courts Refuse to Enforce a Prenuptial Agreement?

There are a number of circumstances that will cause a divorce court in Illinois to refuse to enforce a prenuptial agreement. These circumstances include: 

  • Undue hardship - While generally a spouse can waive her right to receive alimony, this provision may not be enforced if you will be left completely unable to provide for yourself after the marriage ends. This is the main part that many people wanting to leave their marriages are afraid of. No, your wealthy spouse cannot leave you in a situation where you would be in dire financial straits and in need of public benefits. 

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