When at least one spouse has a mental illness, it increases the likelihood of divorce. It’s been found to raise the odds by as much as 80%. Certainly, people with mental illnesses also divorce for the same reasons anyone else does.
If you have a diagnosed mental illness, you may fear you’ll lose custody of your kids in a divorce. Even if your spouse isn’t out to hurt you, they may feel unsafe with you caring for your children alone – and they may convince a judge that it’s not in your children’s best interests for you to share custody or even have unsupervised visitation.
While having a mental illness does increase the odds of losing custody, every situation is different. It’s important to focus on yours.
The term “mental illness” includes depression, bipolar disorder and a host of other conditions. Many people live normal lives as long as they stay on their treatment regimen, whether it’s medication, therapy or both.
If you and your co-parent can’t negotiate a custody agreement on your own and a judge has to decide, their primary concern will be the health, safety and well-being of your children. Namely, they’ll want to know if your mental illness causes you to behave in a way that can endanger your kids – whether through neglect or actions.
What kind of things will be considered?
A judge will likely order a custody evaluation by a mental health professional. They’ll both consider things like the following:
- Are you being treated for your illness?
- How well does the treatment prevent the symptoms from occurring?
- Are you consistently taking your medication and/or getting therapy?
- Does the mental illness cause harmful behavior (either self-harm or harm to others)?
- Is the illness likely to worsen over time?
They’ll also want to know whether the children have witnessed the effects of your illness and how much they understand about it.
It’s important to be upfront about your mental illness if your spouse brings it to the court’s attention. Denying it will likely be far worse for you than admitting it – especially if you’re getting the necessary treatment.
You may have to fight harder for the parenting time and rights you deserve than you think you should have to. There are still a lot of misconceptions about mental illness. However, with sound legal guidance, you can present a strong case for continuing to be an involved parent.