How Illinois Courts Treat Mental Disability When Determining Parental Fitness

 Posted on August 04, 2017 in Child Custody

How Illinois Courts Treat Mental Disability When Determining Parental FitnessA recent Illinois Supreme Court case dealt with what consideration the state should have given to a man’s mental disability before seeking to terminate his parental rights. In order to terminate a parent’s rights, the state must independently prove that the parent is unfit and that terminating his or her rights would be in the child’s best interest. In People of the State of Illinois v. J.B., the state petitioned to remove the defendant’s parental rights. The state cited two subsections of Illinois’ Adoption Act that say a parent is unfit if he or she:

  • Fails to show interest in or concern for the child; or
  • Does not make reasonable progress towards reuniting with the child.

An Illinois juvenile court ruled in favor of the state, but an appellate court overturned that ruling. The appellate court’s majority decision said that: 

  • The defendant could not reasonably comply with state’s expectations for parental fitness because of his mental disability; and 
  • The state did not do enough to accommodate the defendant’s limitations.

The Supreme Court sided with the juvenile court’s decision to terminate the defendant’s parental rights.

Case Background

The child in the case became a ward of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services after both of her parents were accused of neglecting her. A court-ordered psychological examination of the father discovered that he had an intellectually disability, mental illness and history of drug use. The father was deemed unfit but was allowed supervised visits with his daughter, while attending permanency hearings to determine his continued parental rights. A caseworker testified that the father:

  • Was sporadic in visiting his daughter, despite being given bus passes for transportation;
  • Refused to stop using marijuana and did not submit to drug tests; and
  • Did not provide an address which she could contact him at.


The state argued that the defendant’s actions showed that he was disinterested in his child. The defense countered that the defendant’s actions were not willful but a result of his intellectual disability and mental illness. The defense said he was incapable of reasonably following the state’s parenting plan, and the state should have modified the plan for him. In siding with the state, the Supreme Court said that:

  • There is no written requirement in the law defining parental unfitness that says a parent’s disinterest must be willful;
  • The defendant was able to make some parental visits and regularly attend hearings, so his absences were a choice; and
  • The state reasonably considered the defendant’s disability but was limited in how it could accommodate him due to him being uncooperative and difficult to contact.

What It Means

Psychological evaluations can determine whether a parent is fit enough to be allocated parental responsibilities. A parent is not at fault for having a mental illness or disability, but the state can take away rights and responsibilities from unfit parents. A Kane County family law attorney at Goostree Law Group can determine how a psychological evaluation may affect your parental rights. To schedule a free consultation, call 630-584-4800.



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