Mental illness is not something people — whether they reside in New Jersey or elsewhere — like to talk about. There is a stigma attached to individuals with mental health concerns that make those suffering afraid to seek the help that they need or turn to others for support. If a person with a mental illness has children, some may question his or her ability to properly care for those children. This means that, when going through the divorce process, a person’s mental health could end up affecting his or her child custody arrangements.
At what point will the state consider a parent unfit to hold custody of his or her children? Does having a diagnosed mental illness mean that there is no hope for achieving any level of child custody?
Mental illnesses range in severity
The words “mental illness” bring to mind pictures of people in psych wards, unable to care for themselves or so far removed from reality. While, yes, these individuals do have severe forms of mental illness, not all mental health concerns reach that level. For example, millions of Americans suffer from depression and anxiety, considered to be mental illnesses. Many of them need medication to function every day, but they can function, they can work, and they can take care of their families.
The unfit parent
A diagnosis of a mental illness does not give the state the right to take children away from a parent. That parent has to be legally unfit for this to happen. In order to determine if a parent can hold custody of his or her children, the courts will consider:
- The type of illness and its severity
- Treatment type and effectiveness
- Adverse reactions to treatment
- Illness effect on parent/child relationship
- Illness effect on child safety
If a parent is able to function, is not a threat to his or her children, is getting treatment and is able to live a relatively normal life with the mental illness, there is no reason for the state to deny him or her some level of custody.
If you or your soon-to-be ex has a mental illness and you have concerns about how it will affect your children and your child custody arrangements, legal counsel can help you navigate the matter. At the end of the day, child custody is all about what is best for the children. It is about making sure they are in a good situation, and that means making sure they have access to parents who have the ability to care for them properly.