Can a history of mental illness impact child custody matters?

On Behalf of | Mar 30, 2023 | Child Custody, Family Law

Child custody matters are rarely easy to solve because there are so many factors involved that the court must consider. The priority of the court is the well-being of the child. However, because the court must rely on outside people and testimony to determine what is best for the child, it can result in a lengthy case.

Over 50% of Americans will eventually be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder. That is 1 in 5 Americans in any given year. Considering these statistics, it is becoming more difficult for courts to navigate child custody cases. One way of addressing this is that the court provides individual attention and evaluates separately. There is no one-size-fits-all rule approach to these cases.

The goal of family courts is to keep families together. However, in some instances, the court determines that it is in the child’s best interest for them to spend more time with one parent over the other. In other cases, there can be evidence of parental alienation, which can further complicate matters because it distorts the court’s view of a parent and their ability to care for their children.

In cases where a parent has a documented history of mental illness, the court may consider the following:

  • The type of illness is temporary or chronic
  • The severity of the illness
  • Whether the disease makes the parent unfit to care for their child
  • History of addiction and use of drugs and alcohol
  • Psychological evaluations for both the parents and children
  • Doctors’ diagnosis
  • Expert testimony
  • Evidence of a parent’s stability or lack of it
  • Whether the parent is under treatment
  • Whether the treatment is effective

Usually, California courts will try to balance respecting the relationship between children and their parents and ensuring the child’s safety. When a parent has a mental condition, that does not necessarily mean they are incapable of parenting and doing it well. Every case is different.

Child custody cases are complex no matter the circumstances, but mental health issues in one or both parents can complicate things further. It is critical to place the child’s well-being first, be as forthcoming as possible with your attorney, and, if you need psychological help, seek it and get treatment. The courts will consider changes in custody if the parent with mental issues has sought and responded well to treatment.

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