Mental illness does not automatically preclude a parent from having custody of or parenting time with their children. In each case, the courts must determine if the mental illness suffered by a parent means that custody or visitation is against the children's best interests.
There is no specific rule because the term "mental health" covers a wide array of conditions with varying degrees of severity and symptoms.
When assigning custody, the courts are looking at multiple factors, such as providing a safe and stable environment for the children. One of the factors that may be considered is the mental health of the parent.
If a parent can manage their condition through medication and treatment, can work and provide for children and offer a stable environment, then custody or parenting time may be granted despite the issues. If a parent cannot manage their condition, is prone to outbursts, cannot hold a job, and is in and out of the hospital or mental health institution, the parent may be considered unfit.
Being considered unfit for custody does not mean that a parent will not be able to see their children. The court may decide to allow supervised visitation or make other custom arrangements so parent and child may still be able to visit with each other in a way to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children.
As with most aspects of a divorce, a ruling is never carved in stone. If circumstances change, then a parent may petition the court to reevaluate a decision. If a parent, once declared unfit, can remain on a treatment plan and show that they are now living a stable life, the visitation, parenting time, and even legal and physical custody may be reconsidered.
When it comes to the children, the primary deciding factor is always going to be what is in the child's best interest. Recovery from a serious mental health issue and proving they are now capable and responsible enough for more frequent and even unsupervised visitation can take a long time. The courts will want to see proof that the parent is successfully managing their condition while taking other factors into account, such as the relationship between the parent and child.
As a parent, you want what is best for your children. Unfortunately, there are times when what is best is to be protected from a parent who might be mentally unfit, abusive, or incapable of providing a safe environment.
Anthony LoPresti works with parents who require legal assistance to protect their children from an unfit ex-spouse. Dealing with a person whose condition is unchecked can be a very stressful and even frightening thing. Anthony LoPresti has been providing legal counsel to divorced parents for over 30 years.