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Understanding the impact of mental illness on child custody

On Behalf of | Feb 20, 2024 | Blog, Child Custody, Divorce | 0 comments

When a couple who has children splits up, one of the primary issues they have to deal with is custody of the children.

In some cases, conversations surrounding custody are friendly and parents are able to work things out themselves.

In other cases, parents do not work things out themselves and the court may have to get involved.

Court involvement

If a parent alleges that the other parent is unfit to have custody of the children because of a mental health condition, things can get complicated.

However, this is fairly common. Sometimes, parents bring up genuine concerns for the right reasons and other times, especially in high-conflict divorces, a parent may make allegations to hurt the other parent.

What happens when a parent has a mental illness?

First, it is essential to know that mental illness is extremely common in our country. One out of every five Americans lives with a mental illness.

This means that you probably either know someone who suffers from a mental health condition– or have one yourself.

The role of the courts

When it comes to making decisions about child custody, the court looks at the full picture. If parental mental illness comes up, it may be one consideration among many when the court is deciding.

State law requires that the court prioritize the best interests of the child, which is a list of factors that aim to ensure the safety and security of children.

If this is you..

If you are a parent who lives with a mental health condition and are wondering if the court will take your kids away, know that mental illness in itself is not an automatic denial of child custody.

In fact, if the parent can prove that they have dealt with their mental health challenges and are able to manage on a day-to-day basis without negatively impacting the child, the court may not put a lot of weight on this factor.

The court will want to know:

  1. Is the parent under the care of appropriate medical practitioners?
  2. Does the parent’s mental illness affect their daily functioning and parenting abilities?
  3. Does the parent have a strong support system to help them?
  4. Is there a history of hospitalizations or incidents that may speak to instability?
  5. Can the parent provide a healthy, loving environment for their child?

The answers to these questions will help the court decide if the issue of mental illness is an issue at all. If it is, it will help the court make a decision that prioritizes the best interests of the children, which include a relationship with both parents.

What to do in the meantime

When a parent who suffers from mental health issues goes through a divorce, they may feel scared and concerned that the court will take their kids away. While that is a normal fear to have, it is not necessarily accurate at all.

Ensuring you have your condition under control, keeping all evidence and being prepared to provide it to the court are all essential. In addition, be sure to seek guidance from an attorney who can advocate for you as a parent and show the court who you really are.