According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26.2 percent of adult Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder in any given year. Many mental illnesses are biological brain disorders and may vary in severity and length. In a divorce case, a parent's mental health will be factored into child custody issues especially as most courts follow the standard of what is best for the child. The evaluating factor is how the parent's mental health impedes his or her parenting skills and the ability to meet the child's needs. A psychiatric diagnosis is only one part of the evaluation. The court will also look at the specific actions of both parents to determine who should have custody.
Determining a Parent's Mental Health
In child custody cases where the mental health of one or both of the parents is at issue, the court may request psychological testing or appoint a psychiatrist to evaluate the parties. If a parent with ostensible mental illness does not admitted to the illness, the court will turn to the results of the court-ordered evaluations to determine custody matters.
It may be recommended to the court that the child be allowed to attend therapy. The attorney may also consult with any court-appointed therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist who has examined the parent with the mental disorder to provide recommendations to the court regarding the parent’s visitation with the child.
In the case of a child custody agreement where the issue of a parent's mental health arise, the court looks to mental health experts to evaluate the activities of each parent as well as the home life, parenting skills, each parent's relationship with the child, and the child’s feelings and preferences. The expert's recommendations may provide a basis for the custody agreement (or any modification). However, if the recommendations are rejected by the both parties, the court will have the final say.
If one parent feels the other may pose a danger to the child, he or she may request a temporary injunction. Injunctions can prohibit a parent's use of alcohol within 24 hours of possession of the child; prevent the mentally ill parent from operating a motor vehicle while taking prescribed medications, or even prevent a parent from making disparaging remarks to the child about the other parent.
If necessary, the court may appoint an attorney for the child to represent the interests of the child during the case. The child's attorney will also be pivotal in investigating the mental health of the parties to ensure that the outcome is in the best interest of the child.
Custody Taken Away
Courts may take sole custody away from a parent or ban visitation where it is established that the parent's mental illness is severe and there is no other competent adult in the family home. Although mental disability alone is not enough to establish that a parent is unfit, the court will look to other factors such as the specific symptoms of the mental illness and whether prescribed medications impede the party's parenting skills or protecting the child from harm.
If neither parent is fit to be given custody, the court will consider extended family such as grandparents and other relatives to be the caregivers. If no one is found, the court may place the child in foster care.
Get Legal Help
To discuss mental health issues and how they affect child custody, talk with an experienced divorce attorney who can counsel you on the matter.