Given tens of millions of Americans each year suffer from mental illness it’s no surprise the issue comes up in custody cases quite a bit. And in general, the presence of a mentally ill parent can cause stress both to the ill parent (who fears losing their child) and the neurotypical parent (who may fear the effect the mental illness is having on the child).
But there a lot of misconceptions about how mental illness will impact your case and what you should do if you have one.
“My ex is mentally ill” is not a custody slam-dunk.
Courts have gotten a lot more educated about mental illness. The presence of any mental illness, no matter how severe it sounds, is not in and of itself grounds for any parent to lose custody. However, one parent will often be the primary custodian of the child and it is true that the neurotypical parent could have a slight edge in keeping the child, simply because it is a challenge to manage single motherhood and mental illness at the same time.
Keep in mind the court is looking at a whole range of factors like:
- The presence or absence of mental health issues in the other parent; it’s perfectly possible for both parents to be mentally ill.
- Whether substance abuse plays a role in your mental illness.
- Whether your illness has ever caused you to abuse, neglect, or endanger your child.
- How much the illness impacts your ability to perform basic parenting tasks for the child.
- What the day-to-day effect of the illness is on the child.
To help decide, the court may order an evaluation or ask for medical records. They may also look at social media evidence, employment records, and criminal records for clues about whether you can provide your child with a safe environment.
Treatment is a positive, not a negative.
A lot of people who are dealing with this issue shy away from receiving treatment because they fear it will just “prove” the existence of the mental illness. In reality, treatment shows you are actively working to manage and control your condition.
If you have a substance abuse issue, treatment can help you show the court substance abuse is a thing of your past.
Modifications can be made as your situation changes.
Since the court wants to actively foster a relationship between children and both their parents you are unlikely to face a situation where you just never see your child again. If your mental health issues are truly severe you may, however, find the court granting only supervised visitation, or a schedule that doesn’t give you any overnights.
This doesn’t have to be the case forever. As you work on your situation and make changes you can ask for modifications. In time, you may find yourself in something closer to the near 50/50 co-parenting arrangements the court really prefers.
What you need to put your best foot forward at any stage of the custody process is an experienced, qualified family law attorney who will fight for you. If you call us, make sure you address any issues during your free consultation so we can begin putting together a solid strategy from Day 1.