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How Can a History of Mental Illness Affect Child Custody?

Posted by Furman & Zavatsky | Dec 10, 2020

Child custody issues in California are rarely easy to resolve because there are so many different factors that must be considered. The primary factor considered by a family court is always the well-being of the child. Thus, when mental illness of a parent is added into the list of factors, then child custody decisions become even more complicated.

All California family courts always act in the best interests of the child, but it doesn't mean the parent with mental health issues will be denied child custody or visitation rights. However, family courts are not likely to grant a parent physical child custody if they are:

  • not capable of maintaining a stable living situation, or
  • currently displaying signs of mental instability;
  • not making proper life decisions due to issues with mental health.

It should be noted that any drastic change in a parent's mental health status could be grounds for modifying a California child custody order.

In order to give readers a better understanding on mental illness and child custody, our Los Angeles family law attorneys are providing a review below.

California Family Law Courts Have a Legal Duty to Protect Children

Clearly, parents who have a mental illness is a sensitive issue, especially when children are impacted.

California family law courts normally have compassion for a parent who is struggling with mental health issues, but they have a legal duty to protect the well-being of children.

California Family Law Courts Have a Legal Duty to Protect Children
Family courts have compassion for a parent struggling with mental health, but they are required to protect a child's well-being.

This means family law courts are placed in a position where they must find a balance between compassion and the safety of the child. Family court judges will still typically award joint child custody even if a parent has a history of:

  • bipolar disorder,
  • mood swings,
  • personality disorder;
  • depression, and
  • anxiety.

However, if a parent has a history of child abuse or neglect due to mental illness, then the issue of child custody is more complicated. The effects of mental illness make it difficult for a parent to care properly for their children, meaning their well-being can suffer.

If a parent has a history of mental illness, and the other parent accuses them of being an unfit parent, then the California family law Court will review many different factors:

  • parent's current ability to function;
  • provide a safe environment;
  • hygiene and overall well-being;
  • employment stability;
  • medical documentation;
  • treatment and medication history;
  • nature of mental illness;
  • addiction to alcohol or drugs;
  • history of child abuse or neglect;
  • schizophrenia;
  • psychological child custody evaluation;
  • doctor's diagnosis;
  • expert testimony.

The family court judge might even ask the parent to provide current medal records that will show they are receiving treatment for mental illness.

Additionally, the court could consider whether Child Protective Services were ever notified or involved over concern for the parent's ability to care for their children.

If a parent is currently capable of properly performing all their parental duties, they will not normally face penalties for having a history of mental illness.

Can a Parent Pursue Child Custody After Mental Health Treatment?

If a parent is showing signs of instability because of mental health or stress, the family courts are normally compassionate and are not seeking to punish them.

Can a Parent Pursue Child Custody After Mental Health Treatment?
A parent considered unfit can reopen any child custody issues after they have received mental health treatment.

Any parent who is currently considered unstable or unfit has the option of reopening California child custody issues after they have received mental health treatment.

When a parent has been denied joint or physical child custody by the family law court due to an issue with mental health, it's not always considered a permanent custody order.

In fact, California family law courts often will reconsider child custody arrangements after a parent has received proper mental health treatment.

Having a hotly debated legal battle in court over child custody is very stressful for anyone, but even more difficult for a parent who is already mentally struggling. Most California family court judges will support any parent who is pursuing help with their mental health issues.

In most cases, if the parent can show the court that their mental health is a top priority, they will generally consider giving them more parental responsibility and visitation with their children.

Mental Illness and Physical and Legal Custody

Mental illness might impact a parent's ability to share physical child custody. In some cases, it would be in the child's best interest to spend most of their time with the other parent while keeping scheduled parenting time with the other.

Clearly, visitation time is one of the best ways for a parent and child to maintain a meaningful relationship.

If a parent has a history of violent emotional behavior or drug addiction, the court will not award them physical custody. This decision is not based just on the parent's mental illness, rather it's simply in the child's best interest.

Shared legal custody 

Shared legal child custody means both parents make important decisions on significant issues, such as education, church, and their health care. In some cases, a parent's mental illness affects their ability to share child custody, such as having a history of poor financial decisions.

California family courts will generally only award joint decision-making responsibility to parents that have demonstrated they are able to handle child custody responsibilities.

Also, if a parent's mental illness causes too much conflict in the child's life, they will normally award the other parent sole legal custody and give them final decision making authority.

Can Child Custody Be Terminated After Divorce Is Final?

Can Child Custody Be Terminated After Divorce Is Final?
A California family court will consider modifying a child custody order after divorce if there is evidence a child's safety is at stake.

There are situations where signs of mental illness in a parent are not recognized until after the final divorce decree was issued. This could be due to the fact that while mental illness was suspected during the marriage, there was no clear evidence to prove it.

Maybe the stress and high emotion of the divorce has caused the parent to now start acting in an erratic manner.

Regardless of the circumstances, the family court will always consider modifying a child custody order if:

  • evidence can be presented the child's safely is at stake, or
  • the child is in real immediate danger, and
  • it's in the best interest of the child.

However, it should be noted this is considered an extreme action and difficult to accomplish. There is a high burden of proof to show the other parent's right should be terminated.

There will need to be proof the parent is not able to care for their child, such as evidence of child abuse, neglect, abandonment of the child, or they stopped financial support.

Family Law Lawyers in Los Angeles for Child Custody Issues

Court ordered child custody agreements are not always permanent in the state of California.  It's possible to petition the courts for a change after a certain amount of time.

Family Law Lawyers in Los Angeles for Child Custody Issues
Contact our law firm to learn how we can help you with California child custody issues.

If you can prove to the family court it's in the best interests of the child to spend more time with you, then the judge might change in the child custody arrangement. Child custody matters can become complex, especially when there are mental health issues.

If you are currently dealing with mental health issue, or have concerns over the well-being of your children due the mental illness of your spouse, you need to contact a family law lawyer who knows how to deal with this sensitive situation.

Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys who representing clients throughout Southern California, including LA County, Ventura County, Orange County, Santa Monica, Hollywood, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

Our main office is located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County at 15821 Ventura Blvd #690 Encino, CA 91436.

Contact our law firm for a free case consultation at (818) 528-3471.

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