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While the legal rights of a parent should be respected in a custody proceeding, those technical rights may be disregarded if demanded by the best interests of the child. Among the factors to be weighed in determining unfitness are the parent's misconduct that affects the child, neglect of the child, and a demonstrated unwillingness and inability to promote the emotional and physical well-being of the child. Other important considerations include the nature of the home environment and moral climate in which the child is to be raised.
In March 1993, Pamela Kay Bottoms filed a petition against her daughter, Sharon Lynne Bottoms, in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court of Henrico County seeking an award of custody of the daughter's son, born in July 1991. In the petition, the grandmother alleged that the "infant is currently living in an environment which is harmful to his mental and physical well-being." Following a hearing, at which both parties were represented by counsel, the juvenile court awarded custody to the grandmother and granted the mother restricted visitation rights. The mother appealed to the circuit court. The trial court also ruled that custody of the child should be awarded to the grandmother. The appellate court, however, reversed the trial court's judgment and awarded custody to the mother.
Did the appellate court err in awarding the custody to the mother instead of the grandmother?
The Supreme Court of Virginia held that the best interests of the child were paramount and that the presumption favoring a parent over a non-parent was rebutted in this case. Reversing, the Court found that the mother, Sharon Lynn Bottoms, demonstrated that she was an unfit mother because she refused to subordinate her own desires and priorities to the child's welfare. Sharon Lynne Bottoms disappeared for days without informing her mother of her whereabouts, moved her residence from place to place, relied on others for support, and used welfare funds for her own use before buying food for the child. The evidence also showed that the child was hit by the mother's lesbian partner and learned some disturbing traits while in the mother's care. While the legal rights of a parent should be respected in a custody proceeding, those technical rights may be disregarded if demanded by the interests of the child.