Mental illness and child custody: a reason for concern?

On Behalf of | Feb 14, 2024 | Blog, Child Custody, Family Law

Going through a divorce is difficult enough. When the divorce process involves children and additional factors, such as animosity between the parents or other issues, like mental health concerns, things can become very complicated very quickly.

Parents who are going through a divorce and suffer from mental health illnesses are not alone. The statistics are staggering. 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition. That is one out of every five people. Chances are, you know people who do or have one yourself.

What does this mean in a divorce?

First, it is important to mention that if the divorce is amicable, things will likely be easier, especially if the parent with the mental health condition is under treatment and can manage well.

The court’s primary concern is the well-being of the children. If the kids are fine, it is unlikely the court will act or change things against the parents’ wishes.

However, in some cases, parents do not get along and as soon as the divorce proceedings begin, so do the allegations and accusations about the other parent, their inability to provide for their children and more.

In these cases, parents often become concerned.

The court’s role in custody decisions

The court is here to help you get divorced and to settle all matters associated with the divorce. If you have kids, that includes child custody.

The standard the court uses when making decisions about child custody is “the best interests of the child,” which is a list of factors—a parent’s mental health being one of them—that ensure a child is safe, taken care of and lives in a stable and happy environment.

Mental illness concerns

If you suffer from mental illness and are under the care of a physician, the court may ask for medical records, professional opinions and anything else that gives the court an insight into your ability to take care of your kids.

If your condition is stable because you are following a treatment plan and it does not negatively affect your kids, it is likely that the court will not put a lot of weight on this issue.

Do not be concerned if the court asks questions and inquires deeper into your condition and how it affects your relationship with your children. It is normal and that is what the court is supposed to do.

Parenting plans

You or your attorney, assuming you have one, may put forth a parenting schedule at any time during the divorce proceedings that you believe is appropriate or advantageous for your child.

While the other side has the same right, the court can weigh the pros and cons of both and come up with a solution that works for everyone.

Alternative dispute resolution

In addition, if the parties cannot agree on child custody but the court is not ready to decide, they may suggest that the parties go to mediation and try to work things out themselves.

Parents know their children best and the court truly does want to encourage the parents to work together and hopefully communicate in a way that is productive and effective.

When parents disagree

In cases where parents disagree and mediation fails, the court may have to take a stance and decide on custody.

The court may decide to create a parenting plan that allows both parents to see their child equally or on a similar schedule as they do now or did before the divorce proceedings started. Either way, the court’s purpose is not to hurt your relationship with your child, but to help parents navigate through the difficulties that can sometimes come with the dissolution of a marriage.