divorcing woman signing papers

How Are Child Custody Cases Affected for Parents with Mental Illness?

In a custody dispute, the most crucial goal is the safety and well-being of the children. Arizona courts will consider that fact if one parent has struggled with mental illness in a way that profoundly affects their ability to parent the child. 

However, thousands of Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness each year. Simply struggling with your mental health does not always jeopardize your parental rights. 

Can mental illness impact my child custody case?

Arizona law permits a court to terminate parental rights when a parent is unable to take on full parental responsibilities due to mental illness, mental deficiency, or a history of chronic substance abuse. 

However, Arizona courts have made it clear that simply because a parent is diagnosed with a mental illness does not mean their parental rights will automatically be terminated. Courts look at each case individually to determine the severity of the parent’s mental illness and its impact on the parent’s ability to care for their child.

Can a parent with mental illness still carry out their parental responsibilities?

Unless a parent cannot carry out their responsibilities, it is unlikely that a mental health condition diagnosis will affect your child custody case. 

Parental responsibilities encompass a multitude of different things. To name a few, parents are responsible for the following:  

  • Financially supporting their child
  • Protecting the child from harm
  • Providing the child with an education 
  • Arranging for medical care when the child is sick  

But most importantly, parents must be able to provide their children with basic needs such as food, water, and shelter. 

Sometimes, a severe mental illness causes a parent to struggle with providing their child with these basic needs. In that case, a court could find that the parent’s mental illness hinders his or her ability to be an effective parent and that terminating the parental rights would be the best option for the child.

Protecting Your Rights to Your Children 

The best way for a parent suffering from mental illness to protect their rights to their children is by making sure their mental illness is well managed. Consistently taking prescribed medication or going to regular therapy creates a healthy environment where a judge is much less likely to remove your children from your custody. 

Arizona courts have also made it clear that mild mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression may not have any impact on your parental rights.

Regaining Custody after Recovering from Mental Illness 

Losing custody of your child is a traumatic experience for any parent. This hardship can worsen the symptoms of a mental illness and make it even more grueling to regain custody. 

Fortunately, courts understand that it is in the child’s best interests to have both parents in their life. Thus, if you have lost custody of your child, courts will generally provide you with the chance to improve your situation in order to create a safe environment for the child.  

Showing the court that you have taken your mental illness seriously can greatly improve your chances of getting custody. 

For example, some positive things you can show the courts to prove that your mental illness is improving are good coping skills, consistency with your treatment strategies, healthy relationships with others in your life, and stable employment. This will help the court understand that the child will be safe, happy, and healthy in your care. 

Facing a custody battle? 

Do you have questions for a family law attorney about how your child custody case is affected by your or a co-parent’s mental illness? Call Cohen Family Law in Phoenix, AZ, today to discuss how we can help you with your custody case.