It can be difficult to talk about, but needs to be acknowledged – mental illness affects every aspect of a person’s life, as well as the lives around them. Sometimes mental illness can have serious or devastating effects on a marriage or relationship. Often this can lead to issues with divorce or child custody.
When we talk about mental health and mental illness, we’re using it as an umbrella term to encompass an array of disorders including issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, addiction, and other disorders. It’s understood that each is unique and manifests unique symptoms.
Because of this, of course, there’s no “rule” on how mental health affects child custody, as every case is completely different. Variables include the severity of the condition, treatment options available, willingness of the parties to seek help, and many other factors.
However, there’s one thing you can count on, no matter what factors are involved – courts put the best interests of the child first. Best interests include physical and emotional safety. If a parent’s mental health issues demonstrably affect a child’s safety, then they would likely affect the court’s child custody decision.
Having a mental illness doesn’t automatically disqualify a parent from getting custody of the child. It could, however, influence the decision. For example, if the parent’s condition negatively affects their relationship with the child, the court might take that into consideration when determining the amount of parenting time.
Again, though, the impact on child custody typically depends on the severity of the mental illness. More serious disorders might make a parent prone to outbursts, violence, or require frequent hospital stays. In cases like these, courts typically look more favorably on the other parent.
If the parent is able to manage the condition, however, the impact on custody can be much less strict. When medication and other therapies keep symptoms under control, judges may be less likely to deny custody if the parent can prove the or she is adhering to treatment.
So what does this all mean?
For example, if a parent isn’t able to maintain a stable living situation because of mental health issues, it’s unlikely a judge will grant him or her physical custody. Or, if a parent can’t make proper life decisions because of mental illness, it could be difficult for him or her to get legal custody.
It’s also important to remember that any drastic change in mental health status may be grounds for modifying a child custody order. Your family law attorney can answer any questions you may have.
Mental health issues don’t mean parents will never see their child. Depending on the circumstances and the specific case, parents may be awarded supervised visitation or other custom arrangements. However, the court typically requires that the parent maintain a stable home and stick to a treatment plan.
If you have any questions about divorce and child custody, the Fulton family law attorneys at McCabe Russell, PA are here to answer your questions. We can help. To speak with an experienced lawyer serving Howard County clients, please call 443-917-3347 or fill out our contact form. We also maintain offices in Columbia, Rockville and Bethesda.