When deciding custody issues, Courts are required to act in the best interest of the child. A related but separate question for Courts is whether a child’s physical health or emotional development will be “significantly impaired” by granting or denying a person access to the child. For example, the issue of “significant impairment” comes up when parents seek to modify a custody order within one year, when a parent seeks to change the temporary orders regarding which conservator has the right to designate the child’s primary residence, and when grandparents ask the Court to grant them access to a grandchild over a parent’s objections.
Proving that something will “significantly impair a child’s physical health or emotional development” is no small task. Meeting this standard requires specific evidence of bad acts that go beyond violations of the custody order or even parental alienation. This heightened standard exists to encourage consistency in the lives of children, to promote a parent’s constitutional right to parent his or her child, and to prevent frequent re-litigation of custody issues. To meet this standard, a party must show proof of real, significant, and present harm to the child.
In answering this question, Courts must conduct fact-intensive analysis, focusing on he unique circumstances of each case. Generally, acts or omissions such as physical abuse, severe neglect, abandonment, and drug or alcohol abuse and addiction have been found to qualify as significant impairments. Contrarily, simple neglect - such as dirty or ill-fitting clothes and poor hygiene - is insufficient, as is a lack of stability or frequent moves by one parent, unemployment by a parent, parental alienation, a history of family violence, or even the child’s preference. Without specific proof of actual harm, the “significant impairment’ standard is impossible to meet.
There are additional hurdles a person alleging significant impairment must clear. Their proof must come from someone with personal knowledge of the facts, not statements from others. Such proof must also show a present risk of harm to the child, meaning actions from two years or six months ago won’t qualify. The evidence must also show a risk of specific harm to the child and not just bad behavior by the parent.
As you can see, meeting the “significant impairment” standard is, by design, no easy task. If you feel your child or grandchild is at risk, you’ll need an experienced family lawyer to help you make your case. Contact us to schedule a consultation so we can further discuss the details of your specific case and how the Law Office of Robert Tsai, PLLC can help protect your child.
If you need more information, contact us online or call us today at 832-278-1995