Father's Child Custody Rights When the Child's Mother Is Mentally Ill

By Wayne Thomas

Mental illness can affect not only a person's life, but those around them as well. For that reason, courts take mental disorders seriously in deciding child custody matters. However, state law also recognizes the importance of having both parents involved in a child's life, as well as a parent's right to raise a child without the government interfering. Understanding how a mother's mental illness can factor into a custody determination will help you properly exercise you rights as a father.

Mental illness can affect not only a person's life, but those around them as well. For that reason, courts take mental disorders seriously in deciding child custody matters. However, state law also recognizes the importance of having both parents involved in a child's life, as well as a parent's right to raise a child without the government interfering. Understanding how a mother's mental illness can factor into a custody determination will help you properly exercise you rights as a father.

Types of Custody

Mental illness can impact two types of custody. Depending on the laws of the state, the first is often known as physical custody and refers to the parent with which the child lives and includes minor day-to-day decision-making authority. The other type of custody is typically referred to as legal custody and gives a parent the authority to make major decisions for the child. These decisions might include what school the child attends and what religion she practices. Courts generally have the power to order that either type of custody be shared or awarded solely to one parent.

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Best Interests Standard

In most states, the presence of a mental illness does not, by itself, bar a mother from being awarded physical or legal custody. Instead, the court will make an arrangement based on what is in the child's best interest, after considering several factors based on state law. While mental illness is often one factor, its impact may be offset by other concerns, such as the relationship each parent has to the child, the child's preference, and the proximity of each parent to the child's school and activities.

Legal Custody

The nature and severity of a mother's mental illness could impact whether she is awarded legal custody. If the disorder means that she cannot manage her own affairs, and she requires a guardian or form of in-patient hospitalization, this could weigh heavily against her in a custody dispute. However, the court may be less inclined to deny a parent legal custody in cases where the mental illness can be managed. An example might be if the mother takes medication for bipolar disorder and attends regular therapy sessions.

Physical Custody

Certain mental illnesses can also call into question the safety or well-being of a child while in the mother's care. If the mother has a documented history of violent behavior associated with the disorder, the court may find that awarding the father sole physical custody is in the child's best interest. However, the mother may still have some contact with the child through visitation. Visitation involves smaller blocks of parent-child contact, which can be either unsupervised or supervised based on the circumstances of the case and at the court's discretion.

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How Old Must a Minor Be in Kentucky Before He Has a Say in Custody & Visitation?

References

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How Does Spouse Abuse Affect Child Custody?

Courts and parents alike want to keep children safe from harm. In determining the custody arrangement following a divorce, courts are primarily concerned with what is in the best interest of the child. As a result, a history of abuse by a parent, particularly if the history is documented, may be highly influential in the outcome of a custody case.

What Gives You the Upper Hand for Custody?

Although each stage of a divorce can involve conflict, custody disputes have the potential to become the most emotional. However, in all states, the best interests of the child always take precedence over the wishes of the parents. Knowing the circumstances under which a judge may be more inclined to award you with greater parental rights will help you best prepare for your custody case.

How to Determine Who Will Win Child Custody

Child custody laws vary from state to state. Likewise, different jurisdictions have different preferences and guidelines for how to divide custody between divorcing parents. That said, mothers and fathers both have equal rights to obtain custody of their children. Courts will generally not assume that the child will fare better with a particular parent based on that parent’s sex. Likewise, either parent can file a motion for custody, either during a divorce or after a court has entered a custody order.

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