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Can a divorcing parent’s mental health affect custody?

New Jersey parents going through a divorce understand that child custody issues can be tough, especially when deciding where the kids will live and who will take care of them.

The issue becomes more complicated when the parents disagree on who that should be, and to add to that, if one parent has a mental health condition, it can make the situation more challenging.

What is mental health?

First, let’s talk about mental health. Mental health is all about how we think, feel and act. This includes our emotions, thoughts, behaviors and how well we control our thoughts and emotions.

One of every five Americans lives with a mental health condition. That is many people, so the courts understand this and deal with it in cases all the time. However, that does not mean they ignore it.

Impact on the court’s decision

When a parent asks if their mental health status or condition will affect the court’s decision on child custody, the answer is: it depends.

When the court finds out that parental mental health is one issue, it will consider it one factor among many when deciding who the child should live with. The court will look at:

  • The parent’s ability to parent their child
  • The child’s safety
  • Any history of abuse or neglect
  • Any allegations of abuse or neglect by credible sources
  • The child’s stability
  • The child’s health and happiness

Essentially, the court is tasked with ensuring that the child is in the safest place and cared for by the most capable person. Whether that is the parent who has the condition or the other parent, or both, depends on each individual case.

Let’s say a parent has had depression for most of their life and they take medication and attend therapy. They have been under treatment for many years and are grateful for the help from their doctor. They have been cooperative in seeking help and using resources given to them.

In such a case, the factor of mental illness may be much less important than, say, in a case where the parent is a raging alcoholic who denies their condition, contrary to clear evidence presented to the court, including the child’s testimony, if the child is mature enough to speak and communicate with the judge.

Bottom line

Mental health matters are a sensitive topic for parents going through a divorce because there is a lot of uncertainty around custody when the court is evaluating all factors.

It is understandable to be anxious and stressed during this time. However, remember that the court is not out to hurt you or take your child away. The court simply wants to do what is best for your child.