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What Makes A Parent Unfit?


In dealing with issues of child custody and parenting time, all discussion is predicated on the assumption that both parents are fit to take care of children. In some cases, this is not actually the truth. Parents are often declared unfit, for a variety of reasons, which may then require alternative arrangements be made for the children of the marriage. If you are worried about your spouse or the judge alleging you are unfit, it can be beneficial to know the law that governs these questions.

Best Interests Of The Child Are Paramount

While it can be easy to jump to conclusions about what makes a parent unfit, Nevada law has a specific definition for that term. The relevant statute says that an unfit parent in Nevada is one who “by reason of the parent’s fault, habit or conduct” toward others (the child, or other people involved in raising the child), cannot give the child the appropriate care, guidance and support. While this definition is open to interpretation, what it does establish fairly clearly is that there are no specific acts which are automatically a bar to parenting. Incarceration, for example, is not enough to establish a lack of fitness unless the offense was dangerous or potentially harmful to the child or their interests.

In Nevada, it is also settled law that unless a parent is declared unfit, the child’s best interests are served most fairly by the parents sharing custody. Public policy generally holds that children do better when both parents are in their lives if this is possible – of course, if it is not possible, that is a matter for another day, but a court will generally begin with that assumption.

Determining Unfitness

In Nevada, determining parental unfitness requires consideration of a list of factors. Some of them include:

  • Emotional, developmental or mental disability that prevents the parent from taking care of the child’s continuing needs – it is important to remember that the mere existence of an emotional/developmental/mental disability is not enough to disqualify a parent;
  • Substance abuse issues such as alcoholism or drug use;
  • Conduct toward the child that qualifies as abusive or cruel;
  • Willful neglect of the child, in terms of denying them food, shelter, and all other basic human needs despite having the means to grant them; and
  • Being convicted of a felony from which it can be inferred that a parent is unfit.

There are other criteria that a court may use, but these are generally the most common.

Ask A Legal Professional

While courts do not look favorably on frivolous attempts to find your child’s other parent unfit, a legitimate claim will be taken seriously. If you need assistance determining what, if anything, to do, the at the Kainen Law Group may be able to help. We will sit down with you and try to answer questions about what can be a confusing time in your life. Call us today to set up an initial consultation.


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