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How mental illness can impact child custody

On Behalf of | Mar 6, 2024 | Child Custody, Divorce, Family Law |

If you are going through a divorce in Pennsylvania and are worried that your mental health issues may affect your child custody case, you are in the right place. This is a common concern we deal with in divorces where children are involved.

Whether a parent’s mental health will impact child custody is a valid concern, and understanding how the courts handle mental illness in custody decisions can help you be prepared.

Mental illness

Let’s begin by defining mental illness. The term mental illness refers to a wide range of conditions that impact a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior or mood. Examples of mental illnesses include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

In Pennsylvania, the courts prioritize the best interests of the child. While in many cases the parents work issues of custody out themselves, sometimes they do not agree and the court has to decide.

When the court evaluates a case that involves a parent who suffers from a mental illness, it looks at how the illness might impact the child’s safety, welfare and development.

The severity of the illness is a significant factor, as is the type of condition the parent has, the symptoms and whether the parent is under treatment and is compliant.

Court’s intervention

If a parent shows they have no interest in treating their mental health condition, and the illness is clearly severe in the eyes of the court, the judge will likely make a determination to protect the child from that.

Pennsylvania law does not aim to separate children from their parents. In fact, the courts always prefer their children to be with their parents whenever possible, if they are safe and if the parents can care for them, but in cases where a parent cannot, the court must get involved for the safety of the child.

To summarize, in these cases, the courts usually look at:

  • Severity of the parent’s illness
  • Evidence of the parent’s ability to parent their child
  • The child’s relationship with the parent
  • The impact the illness has on the parent’s abilities
  • Protective measures to ensure the child’s safety

Each case is unique, which is why there is no clear-cut answer regarding what the court will decide in your case. If you suffer from a mental health condition, know that one out of five Americans lives with a mental health condition.

It is critical to have dedicated, competent representation that will advocate for you in court and make the best case for you. Showing the court that you can be the parent you want to be could make the difference between getting full physical custody and getting parenting time.