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How mental health issues impact custody

It is a given these days that parents are going to have joint custody. Family experts believe it is in the best interests of the children to have both parents active in their lives, but in honor of May being Mental Health Month, we thought it would be helpful to discuss how this illness can affect child custody.

While the couple may not even be aware of a mental health issue as it tears the marriage apart, it is essential to address the matter as soon as possible. Some may feel it is better to keep their illness a secret until after the divorce is final, but often this can be a mistake. Inability to care for oneself or others is a red flag if it goes undiagnosed, potentially leading a parent to be deemed unfit or neglectful.

Diagnosing the issue

It is increasingly common for parents to be diagnosed with various mental health issues, whether it is depression, addiction, a bipolar disorder or some other illness. Experts believe t is better to seek help as soon as possible to demonstrate to the judge (and even a spouse) that the parent is being proactive about addressing the issue and managing the condition. The details to be shared should include:

  • What are the protocols for treating this illness?
  • Does the treatment have negative side-effects?
  • Are the children at risk?

Do not assume the illness precludes partial custody

As long as the illness is diagnosed, and steps are being taken to treat it through counseling or medication, judges here in Colorado are prone to give the parent a fair chance. This may come with a court order about an evaluation or treatment obligations, but the goal can be achieved.

Is custody the right decision?

Regardless of which side of the issue a parent stands, everyone’s priority should be the well-being of the children. Does the parent have the ability to care for a family? If the answer is “no,” then it is better to have the other spouse have custody until a time when a parent can resume their duties. Refusal to go along with the agreement could exacerbate matters.

While this will be a difficult time for the entire family, they are not alone in facing these challenges. Experienced family law attorneys have been on both sides of the issue when a parent has a mental illness and can work to help ensure the safety and well-being of the family.

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