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How Can Mental Health Issues Affect Decisions About Child Custody?

 Posted on October 20, 2022 in Child Custody

DuPage County Child Custody LawyerLegal matters related to child custody can become very complex from both an emotional and a legal standpoint. When parents choose to get a divorce, or when unmarried parents decide to end their relationship, they will need to make many decisions about how they will work together to raise their children, where children will live most of the time, when children will spend time with each parent, how various expenses will be handled, and multiple other issues. When a case involves mental health issues, these decisions can become even more complicated. 

If a parent has a mental illness, a substance abuse problem, or another serious issue that might affect their ability to care for their child, the court may consider these factors when making a custody determination. When mental health issues are involved in a case, parents must consider what is in the best interests of their children while also ensuring they are prepared to address their own needs and concerns. 

If you are going through a divorce, and mental health issues are a concern, it is important to understand how these issues may affect your case. At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, our divorce and child custody attorneys can help guide you through the legal process, advocating for your children's best interests and ensuring that you take the proper steps to protect your parental rights. We can help you determine whether mental health or child custody evaluations will be appropriate, and we will advise you on the best approach to take to resolve any disputes that may arise. 

Mental Health Concerns That May Play a Role in Child Custody Decisions

In Illinois, child custody issues are decided based on the best interests of the child. This means that the court will consider all factors that relate to the child's well-being when making decisions about custody. One of the factors that may be considered is the mental health of both parents, as well as anyone else who may play an important role in children's lives, such as extended family members who may assist with childcare or others who live in the parents' households. For example, a parent may raise concerns about a step-parent or step-sibling who lives in their ex-partner's home, and if these family members have experienced mental health issues, a parent may believe that their children's safety and well-being could potentially be at risk while they are living with the other parent.

If a parent has a diagnosed mental illness, the court may consider whether the illness affects the parent's ability to care for their child. For example, if a parent has schizophrenia and is not taking medication or receiving treatment, the court may conclude that the parent is not capable of caring for their child or that the children may be at risk of harm when they are in the care of that parent. However, if the parent is currently receiving treatment and has been stable for some time, the court may find that they are capable of co-parenting with the other parent.

Substance Abuse and Child Custody

Drug or alcohol addiction or abuse can also be a factor in child custody cases. If a parent struggles with substance abuse, the court may conclude that they are not capable of providing a stable home environment for their child. The court may decide that it is in the best interests of the child to live with the other parent or to have limited contact with the parent who has substance abuse issues. When addressing these issues, the court may consider whether the parent has received treatment for their addiction and whether they have relapsed in the past. 

Psychological Evaluations in Child Custody Cases

If mental health issues or substance abuse are a concern in a divorce or child custody case, the court may order a parent to undergo an evaluation by a mental health professional. These types of evaluations may be requested by the other parent, or a judge may decide to order an evaluation based on the facts presented to them during the case.

In Illinois, mental health evaluations are commonly known as 604.10(b) evaluations. Section 604.10 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage act details when these types of evaluations may be ordered and the procedures that will be followed in these situations. These matters are also addressed in Illinois Supreme Court Rule 215. These laws and rules state that an impartial examiner who is professionally licensed in a discipline related to the medical or psychological issues that affect a parent may conduct an examination and submit a report of their findings to the court.

When performing an evaluation, an examiner will typically meet with the parent who has been diagnosed with a mental illness or who has a history of substance abuse, and they may also speak to others who are involved, such as the person's family members. During their examination, they will evaluate the parent's current mental state while also considering their past behavior and treatment, the steps they are taking to address their condition, and the likelihood that they will experience issues in the future. They may consider the types of medications the parent is taking, whether they are regularly seeing a psychologist or therapist, and whether they have engaged or are likely to engage in behavior that could potentially put their children at risk of harm. The examiner may also review medical records related to treatment the parent received in the past, other psychological testing results, or any other relevant information. 

The examiner will then make a report to the court about their findings. This report will detail the procedures that were followed during the examination, the data that was collected, the results of any tests that were performed, their conclusions about the parent's physical and mental health, their ability to provide for their children's needs, and any concerns that may affect children's safety and well-being. Depending on the directions provided to the examiner by the judge, a report may include recommendations about how child custody arrangements may be handled in a way that would provide for the children's best interests and protect their well-being. 

The examiner's report must be provided to both parties within 21 days after the examination was completed. During the case, the report will be admitted as evidence. If a trial is held to determine how child custody issues should be handled, the examiner may testify as a witness, and they may be cross-examined by each party's attorney. This can help provide additional information about the conclusions made in the report and the recommendations made by the examiner.

When Are Restrictions on Child Custody Appropriate?

Based on the findings of a mental health examiner or another professional who performed an evaluation, a judge may decide to put certain restrictions in place to ensure that the children's best interests will be protected. If the judge determines that a parent has acted in a way that has put their children's physical or emotional health at risk, the judge may decide to:

Make adjustments to the allocation of parental responsibilities, such as by granting the other parent the right to make decisions on behalf of the children or even eliminating a parent's decision-making authority altogether;

  • Reduce the parent's amount of parenting time or eliminate their right to spend time with their children;

  • Require a parent's parenting time to be supervised by the Department of Children and Family Services or another party;

  • Require parents to exchange children through a third party or in protected settings;

  • Limit a parent's ability to communicate with the other parent or with the children;

  • Order a parent to abstain from using alcohol or drugs during their parenting time or within a certain period of time before they spend time with their children;

  • Restrict certain people from being present during a parent's parenting time;

  • Require a parent to post a monetary bond to ensure that they will comply with the court's orders;

  • Require a parent to undergo treatment for drug or alcohol addiction or mental health issues; and/or

  • Put any other orders in place that are necessary to protect the children's health, safety, and well-being.

How to Handle Mental Health Evaluations

If you have been ordered to undergo examinations by mental health professionals, you will want to make sure you respond correctly and take the right steps to protect your parental rights. Failing to comply with court orders, making false statements during evaluations, or taking other actions that could negatively affect children's health or safety can result in negative consequences for your child custody case, such as potentially losing decision-making authority or even losing parenting time altogether. 

You will need to cooperate with an examiner and provide any relevant information that is requested. You should be honest and answer any questions that are asked as completely as possible. Ideally, you will want to avoid making negative comments about the other parent, engaging in argumentative behavior, or otherwise bringing interpersonal conflict into these matters. Instead, you should focus on demonstrating that you can provide for your children's best interests, that you are focused on meeting their needs, and that you are taking all of the necessary steps to address any issues that could affect their health and well-being.

It is important to remember that child custody decisions are based on what is best for the children, not necessarily what may be most convenient or desirable for the parents. Seeking help for any substance abuse problems or mental health concerns, following court orders and recommendations, and demonstrating that you are able to put your children's needs first can all be important factors in ensuring a positive outcome in your child custody case. 

Contact Our DuPage County Child Custody Attorneys

Child custody matters can be complex, and mental health issues can complicate these cases even further. If you are going through a divorce and have concerns about how issues related to mental health will affect your custody case, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney. At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, our Elmhurst child custody lawyers can help you understand your rights and options, and we will fight for the best possible outcome in your case. 

If you are concerned about your children's safety because your ex-partner has a substance abuse problem or is not receiving the proper treatment for a mental illness, we can help you request a mental health evaluation, and we can advocate for any restrictions on child custody and parenting time that may be necessary. If you have been ordered to receive a mental health evaluation, we can help you protect your rights and ensure that you demonstrate that you are not a danger to your children. Regardless of your situation, we can help you find solutions that will provide for your children's best interests and allow you to maintain close relationships with them. To get legal help with these issues or other matters related to child custody, contact us today at 312-605-4041 to arrange a consultation.






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