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A parent’s mental health and child custody decisions

On Behalf of | Feb 15, 2024 | Family Law

When couples split up, one of the most important decisions they make is the custody of the children.

If one parent suffers from a mental health condition, things can become complicated, especially if the divorce is not amicable.

First, courts encourage parents to work things out on their own. However, if someone brings up the mental health of a parent as a concern, the court must investigate it to ensure the safety of the children.

The role of the court in custody decisions

The court is not out to take kids away from their parents. This is an important point that divorcing couples must understand.

The role of the court is to ensure the stability, safety and happiness of the child and that whatever custody arrangement the parents end up having is the best arrangement possible for the child.

Having a mental health issue does not automatically mean a parent cannot take care of their child or provide for them.

However, the parent who lives with a mental health condition must show the court that they are indeed capable of handling the day-to-day responsibilities and challenges that come with parenting.

Parents and mental illness

If a parent suffers from a mental health condition, the court may:

  • Ask to see the parent’s medical records
  • Want to speak with the parent’s treating physician
  • Want to confirm they are under treatment
  • Need to ensure that the treatment is working
  • Make sure the parent is adhering to the treatment

In addition, the court may ask an independent psychological specialist to interview and evaluate to determine whether the parent is stable and thus capable of providing for the needs of the child.

Commonality of mental illness

Mental health is a broad term that can mean a lot of things. The percentage of people living with mental illness in the United States is also staggering. One in five Americans lives with a mental health condition.

It is common and the courts understand this. However, if the parent is not treating their mental health condition and that is negatively affecting the child, the court may intervene and decide that the child should live primarily with the other parent.

Still, the parent who has mental health challenges could very well have extensive visitation and, if they treat their condition, they can ask the court to change that order later.

In other words, the court looks at the entire picture before deciding and even then, parents can always ask the court to reassess.