Written by Timothy Czekaj
Mental illness is a widespread issue, impacting 43.8 million American adults in any given year. If you’re going through divorce or a custody dispute with someone who has a mental illness—or if you are wondering if your mental illness will affect your family law issues—find out how the court views mental illness.
How Mental Illness Can Impact Parenting
To understand why courts might consider a parent’s mental illness in their custody decision, look at the many ways in which mental illness can affect parenting. If a parent suffers from a condition that requires frequent hospitalization or makes them prone to violent outbursts, they are less likely to be able to provide consistent care for their children. Similarly, mental illness that causes or worsens abusive behavior will almost certainly impact custody decisions.
Mental illness can affect parenting in ways that are more difficult to detect. A parent with unmanaged depression may be unable to get out of bed consistently. As a result, children may have an excessive amount of tardies or absences at school. They may also have to take responsibility for their own meals, hygiene, and other needs that should be met by parents.
Determining a Child’s Best Interests
Someone’s mental illness does not strip them of their parenting rights, nor does it automatically mean that they are an unfit parent. The court is unlikely to look at a parent’s mental illness and use it as the sole reason to limit physical or legal custody. Instead, they will consider what is in the best interests of the child.
Generally, it is in a child’s best interest to have equal time with both parents. A judge may decide that a parent’s untreated mental illness overrides this recommendation and subsequently give more parenting time to the other caretaker.
While children do deserve meaningful time with both parents, judges do want children to have a stable home life. If a mentally ill parent may preserve their relationship with their child through structured or supervised visits, they may go this route.
However, if a parent has mental illness that is well-controlled by lifestyle changes and medication, it is unlikely to have a serious impact on custody proceedings. In these situations, the child’s right to a relationship with both parents is more important than the faint possibility that one caretaker’s mental illness may someday impact their parenting choices.
Documentation and Evidence
Whether you are trying to protect your children from the choices of a mentally ill parent or you want to protect your parenting rights as a mentally ill parent, know that documentation is key.
If you believe that your co-parent’s diagnosis is a detriment to your child’s stability and quality of life, you need evidence that demonstrates this. Documentation of missed days from school, comments that your child has made about missing meals or being forced to care for themselves, or evidence that your co-parent leaves the child without care for extended periods of time can all work in your favor.
If you have a mental illness that is well-managed, you can protect your parenting time by proving that your children have their needs met. Documentation of their performance in school, testimony from people close to the child, and expert witnesses can all strengthen your case.
Reach Out to Us for Help With Your Custody Case
Custody disputes are stressful for everyone involved. With the right legal representation, you can feel confident that you are doing what is best for your child and maintaining your rights as a parent. Learn more about your legal options now by contacting Czekaj Law, LLC. Call us at (717) 275-9770 or fill out our online contact form now.