Child Custody & Mental Health Laws in Alabama

by Beverly Bird
Alabama courts can consider mental health issues when deciding custody.

Alabama courts can consider mental health issues when deciding custody.

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Fighting over custody on top of divorcing your spouse can be tough enough. If you have perceived skeletons in your closet and worry about how they might affect the proceedings, the stress can increase tenfold. If you suffer from mental health issues, this can impact custody issues in Alabama, so you might want to enlist the help of an attorney to increase your chances of a successful outcome.

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Alabama's Best Interests Factors

Like courts in other states, those in Alabama base child custody decisions on what the judge feels is in the best interests of the children. Best interest factors vary somewhat from state to state. Alabama's laws touch on each child's unique needs and which parent can best meet them. Judges consider the quality of each parent's home and look at how close your relationship has historically been with your children. Perhaps most important – if you're ill – judges can weigh the mental and physical health of each parent.

Effect of Mental Illness

Because your mental health is a factor that Alabama courts consider when assessing the best interests of the children, the judge will want to know if your illness will impede your willingness and ability to care for your child. He will probably want to know the details of your condition and what you're doing to treat it. He may want to know if your condition is something you've successfully dealt with all your life or if the problem began relatively recently. Mental health issues include problems like alcohol or drug addiction, as well as other forms of mental illness.

Issues of Confidentiality

Alabama courts have ruled that anything you say to your mental health care provider is confidential and cannot be used against you at trial -- except in lawsuits where custody or alimony are at issue. If you divulge anything to your therapist or physician that could potentially hurt your case, such as you often forget to take your medication or you fell off the wagon and had a drink last weekend, your spouse can subpoena your doctor to testify to this information. The therapist is obligated to testify, particularly if your conversation pertained to anything that could affect your children's best interests.

Defenses and Options

Just as your spouse can call your therapist or doctor to testify about your condition at trial, you have the right to do so as well. If you confer with or retain an attorney, he would know if it would help your case to present testimony regarding your mental health -- bringing it to the attention of the court yourself could be beneficial if your doctor can confirm that you regularly take your medication or you otherwise keep on top of your illness and it does not affect your parenting skills. This might be risky, however, because your ex or her lawyer always has the right to cross-examine your witnesses. If custody does not turn out your way, and your health condition improves after your divorce is over, Alabama law allows you to ask for a modification of custody terms if you can prove a change of circumstances. You would have to establish that modifying your custodial rights would improve your child's life to such an extent that it would be worth disrupting the current custody arrangement.