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What happens in a custody dispute where one parent is mentally ill?

UPDATED: February 8, 2020

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In a custody dispute, if one parent suffers from mental illness, the court will assess whether that mental illness impacts his or her fitness as a parent. If it does, that parent may be awarded limited visitation rights, or even denied access to the child unless or until he or she gets help and becomes fit to parent.

Child Custody Determinations

When a court makes a determination in a custody dispute, they generally do so with the aim of allowing the child to continue his relationship with both parents. The court may award:

  • Primary custody, where one parent has the child most of the time and the other parent gets scheduled visits at regular intervals, such as every other weekend.
  • Sole custody, where one parent has the child all of the time and the other parent either does not get to visit at all or gets to visit only on a very limited basis, such as occasional supervised visits.
  • Shared or joint custody, where the parents share the child on an equal or close-to-equal basis.

In order to assess which custody arrangement is right in a custody dispute, the court will look at the best interests of the child. A number of factors are used to determine what is in the child's best interests, including the ability of each parent to provide an appropriate environment for the child and to have the ability to parent the child with a reasonable level of competence.

Mental Illness and Child Custody

If one parent has a history of mental illness, this may suggest to the court that the parent cannot provide a safe home environment and that it is not in the best interests of the child to live with that parent or to visit that parent regularly. To determine if this is the case, the court will assess what form the mental illness takes, and whether it interferes with the parent's ability to parent. If the mental illness makes it impossible for the parent to provide a reasonable level of care to the child, then the court may award either limited visitation, supervised visitation, or no visitation at all.

Getting Help

All custody disputes are difficult, but things become even more complicated when mental illness is involved. As such, it is imperative that you hire a lawyer to help guide you through the process. 

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