How Can a Parent’s Mental Illness Affect Child Custody and Support?
The best interest of the child is the standard that guides a court in deciding a custody case, and a parent’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment factors heavily into the evaluation. As such, the court will consider whether a parent has a mental illness that affects their ability to care for the child.
A diagnosis of a mental health condition alone may not adversely affect a parent’s custody or visitation. The court will consider the severity of the illness and its symptoms to determine whether the child’s safety and welfare are at risk.
Sometimes, the symptoms associated with a mental illness may be mild and manageable. However, if a parent suffers from a chronic, severe, or debilitating condition which prevents them from meeting the child’s needs — or endangers the child — the court may decide that special arrangements should be made.
In rendering a custody determination in a case in which a parent suffers from a mental illness, a court will consider whether the parent:
- Has the ability to provide a stable environment
- Can manage their condition with medication or treatment
- Suffers an illness that causes them to exhibit violent behaviors
- Can care for the child day-to-day
- Experiences a condition that is debilitating or severe
- Is a danger to the child or poses a risk of harm
In addition to the children’s best interests, a court must consider the rights of the parents when deciding a child custody matter. Unless extreme circumstances exist, such as evidence of abuse, neglect or endangerment, a court is not likely to terminate parental rights.
If a court finds the parent ineligible for custody, it can still allow the non-custodial parent to have parenting time and foster a relationship with the child while ensuring their safety. In certain cases, a court may decide supervised visitation is appropriate. This means the child would visit the mentally ill parent with a family member or social worker present.
A mental health condition doesn’t relieve a parent from their child support obligations but it may affect the amount of support. If a parent’s mental illness is debilitating to the extent that they cannot work full-time, the child support obligation might be diminished, since it is determined based on income. However, any SSDI payments received by the non-custodial parent may be factored into court-ordered child support.
If you’re facing a child custody dispute, an experienced attorney can help you protect your legal rights. The attorneys at Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. have been helping clients throughout Washington with their family law matters for over 20 years. Call 253-272-5653 or contact us online to schedule a consultation at our Tacoma office.