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Can a parent’s mental illness impact child custody decisions?

On Behalf of | Feb 21, 2024 | Divorce

When parents decide to part ways, one of the most challenging conversations they must have is about their children. Sometimes they can amicably negotiate an arrangement that is in the best interests of the child and that works for both of them. Sometimes they cannot.

If a parent’s mental health comes up in court, the judge will naturally want to know more. This is not because the court wants to take the child away but because the court’s obligation is to ensure that the child’s safety and care.

Nature of the illness

Having a mental illness is not an automatic denial of child custody. It is one of many elements that the court takes into consideration when deciding where the child should live and who should decide for them.

The court knows that people with mental illness can still be great parents. After all, one in five Americans lives with a mental illness. These staggering statistics mean that you either know someone who has a condition or have one yourself.

Treatment and management

What the court wants to understand is that the parent who has a mental illness can take care of their child.

  • Is the parent capable of assuming all the responsibilities that come with parenting?
  • Can the parent provide financially for the child? What about physical and emotional needs?
  • Does the parent have an adequate support system?
  • Is the parent being treated and is the treatment working?

Answers to these questions can help the court decide whether the mental health situation is an issue at all. If the parent has depression or anxiety, for example, and takes medication, goes to therapy, and otherwise leads a normal life, the judge may not even consider the mental health concern.

Mental health evaluations

The court may ask the parents to provide medical information that shows how they are doing and it may also conduct its own independent psychological assessment of the parents to get the expert opinion of a psychologist or family counselor.

The bottom line is that the court is not out to take kids away from their parents. The question in situations like this one is whether the parent can provide for the child, not only materially but also emotionally and in every other way that the child needs.

If this is a concern you have, be as candid as possible with your attorney. But do not worry. You will have your day in court and be able to explain to the judge your side of things.