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Child custody and parental mental illness

One of the toughest calls for a family law judge is deciding which parent should have custody of the children when one of the parents is battling a serious mental illness. In fact, for the playing field to be leveled at all, the mentally ill parent should be represented by a staunch ally who not only understands the intricacies of Massachusetts family law, but the challenges of mental illness and parenting.

The rate of parents who lose custody of their children due to their mental illness can be as high as 80 percent. When determining custody, much depends on the nature of the mental illness and the parent's compliance with medication, counseling and other aspects of their treatment plan. For instance, in the case where a parent is diagnosed with Munchausen's by Proxy, a court would not likely award custody to him or her out of a reasonable inference that the parent could cause harm to his or her child.

Another concern of the court could be a parent who is diagnosed with severe body dysmorphia or anorexia nervosa. Parents' odd eating patterns, self-hatred and incessant exercising could become transferred to their children, with disastrous results. Courts would be right to intervene on the minor children's behalf in those instances.

But other, less severe, forms of mental illness are more open to debate. The family law attorney for the parent living with a mental illness may still have an uphill battle, but winning custody is still achievable. Should the other parent have issues of his or her own such as law-breaking or substance abuse, it makes it even more likely the court will determine it is in the best interests of the child to reside with their treatment-compliant parent living with mental illness.

Source: Healthy Place, "Parents with Mental Illness and Child Custody Issues," accessed June 30, 2016

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