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Co-parenting when your former spouse has a mental illness

Divorce is never an easy thing to go through for families. This process becomes even more complicated when there are children involved. While determining child custody, and if you will co-parent, it is important to remember that the child's best interest should be the priority.

Mental illness within the family may have an impact on how you decide to co-parent. This is not an easy decision. It's important to not lose hope when the symptoms of the mental illness become uncontrollable. When you decide to co-parent with someone who has a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, you may consider strategies to help improve the outcome of the situation.

Educating yourself and children

When your ex is diagnosed with a mental illness, you may want to educate yourself and your children on what the symptoms and complications can be. You should treat this mental illness like you would other illnesses. As a person's mental illness can change the way they function daily, you'll want to educate your child on what to do in case of an emergency. This education will be based on your child's age, of course.

Explaining mental illness to a six-year-old will be different from a teenager. When the child is younger, you may leave out the diagnostic criteria, treatment and other aspects they may not understand. Knowing the basics may assure your child that daddy is still daddy, and vice versa.

Model coping strategies

Coping with a family member's mental illness is not an easy task. Because you may be who your child confides in regarding the other parent's mental illness, knowing what to say can help the situation. They will learn to stay calm and how to cope if they observe you doing the same.

It is also important to allow your child to focus on their parent as mom or dad, and not refer to the parent by their illness. This may cause the mental illness to become the primary identity the child sees, which is something to avoid.

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O'Brien Family Law, PC 

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