Mental health issues are usually associated with a higher risk of suicide, and while every mental health issue is different, all can play a role in custody determinations.
When making custody decisions, courts consider, above all else, the best interests of the child. The mental health of the parents plays a pivotal role in determining who gets custody. But that does not necessarily mean the courts will automatically award custody to the other parent if you have a history of mental illness
How Do Courts Determine the Best Interests of the Child?
Courts consider multiple factors when determining the best interests of the child. These include:
- The parents' ability to provide a safe and stable home for the child
- How likely the child is to adjust to the community and school
- The physical and mental health of the parents
- The child's preference, depending on how old the child is
- Evidence of drug and alcohol abuse by the parent
Note that courts take a more holistic approach, not considering just one factor to determine what is within the best interests of the child.
States Can Add Additional Factors
In addition, states sometimes enact laws directing courts to take into consideration other factors when making custody determinations. For instance, Florida law directs courts to consider the love and affection between the child and the parent or siblings when determining the best interests of the child.
States may also limit the factors courts look at when making custody determinations. Delaware, for example, does not allow courts to assume one parent is better suited to take care of the child because of their gender.
Mental Illness and Custody Determination
The court will consider the mental health of the parents when awarding or modifying custody. However, there are cases such as Voelker v. Voelker where courts have awarded custody to a parent despite the existence of mental health problems, including attempting suicide.
The courts will likely look at the steps the parent is taking to treat the mental illness. Accordingly, they look at whether the parent is taking medication, getting therapy, and the general recovery progress. It is therefore very important you present the court any proof to show the progress you are making.
Even if the judge decides to modify your custody rights because of a mental health issue, it doesn't mean you won't have any rights. You can ask the court for parental visitation rights to ensure you get time with your child.
Remember, you can still ask the court to modify the custody order in the future. You can do this by showing your progress and convincing the court that having custody is within the best interests of your child.
Consult With an Attorney for Your Child Custody Case
Custody arrangements can take an emotional toll on any parent. Figuring out the specific laws in your state can also be very challenging. Make sure to speak with an experienced child custody lawyer to ensure your parental rights are protected.