Mental Health During Child Custody

Child custody matters are never easy or straightforward. There are dozens of factors to consider, with the well-being of the child at the heart of the situation. Add a mental illness in one of the parents to the equation, and child custody becomes even more complex. The courts will always act in the best interests of the child, but that does not necessarily mean the parent with mental health issues will have zero visitation or custody rights. Here is an overview of what to expect in this delicate situation.

How Does the Court Determine Child Custody?

Ideally, every court wants a child in a divorce to stay in contact with both parents. When the court must decide due to a custody dispute, it will do so with the goal of continuing the child’s relationship with both parents. The court will analyze each parent’s conduct, history, caretaking capabilities, child’s relationship with the parent, and the physical and mental well-being of each parent. The court may grant one of three types of child custody:

  • Sole custody. One parent always has the child and the other parent gets visitation on a very limited basis or not at all.
  • Primary custody. One parent has the child most the time and the other has regularly scheduled visits, such as on the weekends.
  • Joint custody. Both parents share the child on an equal or almost-equal basis.

The court will first and foremost consider the best interests of the child when determining the custody arrangement. The court will look at a number of factors to decide the best situation, such as each parent’s ability to care for the child. It will take the ability of each parent to provide a safe, appropriate environment for the child into consideration. The parent must be able to care for the child with a reasonable degree of competence. This includes sufficient mental health.

Mental Illness and Child Custody

When one parent suffers from a mental health issue, the courts will assess the individual’s ability to provide a safe home environment. Mental illness can impact physical custody as well as legal custody, or the right to make major decisions for the child. These include health care, education, and religious decisions. If the courts find one parent unfit to make legal decisions, the parent may lose this right. Similarly, the parent may not receive physical custody or even visitation rights in the event of a mental illness that affects the ability to care for the child.

In California, the presence of a mental illness does not automatically bar a parent from child custody. the court will analyze the situation and make a decision that is in the child’s best interest. The severity of the mental illness can impact the decision. If the mother or father is still fully functioning and able to safely and competently care for the child, the courts may award some type of custody or visitation rights. However, a documented history of violence, inability to manage affairs, or requiring in-patient hospitalization may all lead to the other parent receiving sole custody.

Getting Help for Child Custody Disputes

Court-determined child custody agreements are not set in stone. It is possible to petition the courts for a change after a certain period. If the court can see that it is in the best interests of the child to spend more time with you, it may make a change in the custody arrangement. Child custody matters are complex, especially when involving mental health issues. Seek help from a competent California attorney during divorce proceedings to protect your rights as a parent.