Mental health has come into the spotlight as of recently as news of celebrity deaths to suicide have spread. Arguably, mental health issues are felt by individuals from all walks of life, including parents in a custody matter.
How are mental health issues handled in child custody cases?
Child’s Best Interests
Texas courts put the child’s best interests as the main focus of any custody case. As such, the court will consider the emotional stability of each parent, as well as his or her ability to provide the child with a safe, stable and loving environment.
If the parent’s mental health issue is under control, and the parent has acknowledged it and is receiving treatment, odds are it will not have much of an effect on child custody.
However, if the mental health problem is major and being left untreated, the court will use this information in making a determination on what is in the child’s best interests.
Additionally, if the parent has a substance abuse problem associated with the mental illness, this factor will also affect child custody.
The court can enter significant restrictions if a parent has a mental health issue that he or she has left unaddressed. For example, custody limits may be entered if the parent has started and stopped treatment in the past for illnesses such as bipolar disorder or substance abuse.
Court Restrictions Due to Mental Illness
The court may order restrictions in the custody order, specifically with respect to visitation, possession or access to the child.
Certain situations do exist where a parent who is battling a mental illness can have restricted possession of the child. Some courts have ordered that the child only spend one to two days a month with the parent if the court has firm evidence that the parent does not have the ability to make sound and stable decisions for the best interest of the child.
Especially in circumstances where the safety of the child or the parent’s well-being is in danger, the courts may restrict possession in the court order.
Many times, the court is notified of untreated mental illness after a report of child abuse or neglect has been made related to this problem.
If DFPS has become involved and it is believed that care for the child will need to be for a long period of time, foster care may be the next step. However, the other parent would ideally be the first choice for who gets custody of the child.
If the parent can show to the court and DFPS that they have improved their mental health and great progress has been made, DFPS will then come up with a plan.
The plan usually involves a probationary period, where the time with the child is incremental, depending on the situation. The case would then end with a possession order for both parents to co-parent in caring for the child.
How Do Mental Health Issues Affect Support?
In some circumstances, a spouse’s mental health can affect his or her ability to pay support. In serious circumstances, mental health issues can be debilitating and can make it impossible for him or her to hold a steady job and support the entire family.
The judge will take these issues into consideration when determining spousal support, but this will not take away from that parent’s obligation to support the child. Courts will still issue child support orders regardless of either parent’s mental health issues.
Termination of Parental Rights
Terminating parental rights is the last resort and is viewed as an extreme measure, but courts may terminate parental rights if one parent’s mental illness is putting the child’s safety and well-being in danger and no other alternatives to preserve the parent-child relationship are available.
A parent who has untreated mental health issues may have his or her legal parental rights terminated if the following applies:
- The parent has a mental illness or deficiency that makes it impossible for him or her to care for the child’s emotional, physical and mental needs;
- The parent’s mental illness or deficiency is permanent;
- The child has been placed out of the parent’s care for a period of at least six months;
- The State has made all reasonable efforts to return the child to a parent’s care; and
- The termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests.
Contact A Custody Lawyer Today
If you have questions about how mental health issues will affect your child custody case, please contact family lawyers at Scott M. Brown and Associates. You can reach us by calling (979) 318-3075 or completing our online form. We have offices in Angleton, League City/Clear Lake, and Pearland.