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How Mental Illness Can Affect a Child Custody Decision


When a parent fails or refuses to seek treatment when they struggle with mental illness, a divorce or child custody dispute sometimes becomes inevitable.  Unfortunately, after struggling as a family unit, child custody litigation tends to be a struggle as well.  We’ve outlined some of the difficulties.

Lack of Preparation.

Some parents end up divorcing the addicted spouse unexpectedly. Their spouse’s mental illness affected the children’s safety, and regardless of the parent’s compassion for their partner’s problem, they must separate and divorce to keep the children safe. 

Because the effects of mental illness affected most aspects of the family members’ lives for some time, the parent filing for separation or divorce often assumes that the mentally ill parent will not dispute the problem during the litigation. However, the attorneys at Kraayeveld Law find that this is often not the case; rather, a mentally ill parent often denies or continues to deny, the problem. When this happens, the dispute may prevent a settlement of the case and increase the overall cost of the litigation.  An attorney may be able to request medical records or request drug testing if the parent is self-medicating with drugs or abusing prescriptions; however, a parent may claim privilege and refuse to produce the medical records. 

More importantly, mental illness does not always tip the custody fight in one parent’s favor. Rather, the judge will want to know how the mental illness affected the minor children.

Lack of Trust.

Sometimes a divorce or custody filing is the necessary incentive for a spouse to face his or her mental illness and lack of appropriate treatment. After years of ignoring appropriate treatments and counseling, a parent may no longer believe that the mentally ill parent will actually start and continue on the path of recovery.  Even so, the family law attorneys at Kraayeveld Law can help with a custom order to put safeguards in place, such as required counseling, medication checks, and safety mechanisms for the children.   

Financial Support.

When a spouse suffers from a mental illness, he or she may become unemployed.  Even so, the court will likely still order child support and sometimes spousal support, based on the parent’s prior ability to earn an income.  However, an order for support does not equal actually receiving child or spousal support.  There can be a delay in collecting these funds.  Meanwhile, a parent and the children may end up in a financial bind. For that reason, it is important to have a planning session with an attorney prior to filing for divorce or separation.

Help for the Parent struggling with Mental Illness.

Parents who are accused of mental illness and an inability to parent their child(ren) have options available.  At Kraayeveld Law, we’d like to start with an honest conversation to be able to defend our client’s position to the judge.  Even if you obtained an unfavorable court order with limited, supervised, or no parenting time, we can help to work towards a better visitation plan. 

What to Expect.

Michigan law provides that children have a right to a relationship with both parents.  A good judge will allow parents to work towards that goal.  A good attorney will craft a long-term plan with his or her client to ensure the safety and well-being of the children, which also includes a safe relationship with both parents.  In situations where one parent is accused of mental illness, the parents should expect that the judge will want to review evidence supporting such an allegation, and how it affected the children.  The judge may require counseling, follow-up hearings, and reports from the counselor(s). 

If you or your partner struggle with mental illness, call our office at 616-285-0808 to schedule a planning session with one of our family law attorneys.