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What Can I Do If My Co-Parent’s Mental Health Impacts Their Parenting Abilities?

 Posted on December 10,2020 in Child Custody

Joliet family law attorneyThe stigmatization behind the term “mental illness” has been greatly reduced over the past few decades. Unlike in the past, being diagnosed with a mental illness is fairly common, and contrary to popular belief, the diagnosis does not necessarily impact your ability to perform everyday activities or hold responsibility. In the U.S. alone, nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness. 

If you are a parent whose former spouse or co-parent has a mental illness, you may be concerned about their ability to be there for your child. While having a mental illness is not enough to be considered incapable of parenting, if you have seen your co-parent’s mental health get in the way of their parenting capabilities, you may be wondering how to address this in court and have these concerns reflected in your parenting plan. With the help of a reputable attorney, you can have your concerns heard by the court and keep your child in safe hands. 

Levels of Mental Illness

Mental illnesses can come in many forms and levels of severity. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes two categories of mental illness: any mental illness (AMI) and serious mental illness (SMI). AMI is defined as a behavioral, mental or emotional disorder that can vary in impact from mild to severe impairment. SMI is a behavioral, mental or emotional disorder which results in serious functional impairment and which greatly interferes with or limits major life activities. According to 2019 data, an estimated 20.6 percent of all U.S. adults have AMI, while only 5.2 percent of U.S. adults have SMI. As you can see, only a small number of Americans suffer from SMI, and in order for your co-parent’s mental health to weigh into your parenting plan, they will likely need to have severe impairment from AMI or be diagnosed with a SMI.

Determining Your Child’s Best Interests

When creating your parenting plan, the court will make all decisions in the best interests of your child. According to Illinois law, the following criteria will be considered when determining what is best for your child:

  • The wishes of the child, depending on their maturity and ability to express their opinion
  • The child’s adjustment to their home, school and community
  • The physical and mental health of all individuals involved
  • The parents’ ability to cooperate when making decisions
  • Each parent’s previous involvement in decision making for the child
  • The wishes of the parents
  • The child’s needs
  • The distance between each parent’s home and the difficulty in transporting the child between homes
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to encourage a relationship between their co-parent and the child
  • Any previous forms of physical violence, threats of violence, or abuse against the child
  • Any other factor that the court deems relevant

There are a number of factors that the court considers when making such decisions, including the mental health of both parents. The presence of a mental illness is not enough to take away a parent’s rights to their child, but if the court sees the illness impacting the parent’s ability to properly care for the child or placing the child into a dangerous situation, they may think otherwise.

Bringing It Up in Court

Telling a judge about your former spouse’s mental health history can be an uncomfortable and contentious conversation to have. If you breach the conversation without concrete examples of how their mental illness has impacted your relationship or their parenting abilities, it can quickly appear that you are trying to limit their parenting time without a real reason in doing so. The best way to approach the topic is by preparing examples of how your co-parent’s mental health has directly impacted your child and may place the child at risk in the future. The court may ask the parent in question to undergo a mental health exam, with the results being provided for additional verification of your allegations. Depending on the results, the court may decide to reduce their parenting time, require supervision during this time, or take away their parenting rights altogether.

Contact a Will County Child Custody Lawyer

Finding yourself fighting against your former spouse or co-parent in court is never what anyone hopes for when they are discussing child custody arrangements. If, however, you believe that your co-parent is a risk to your child’s health and safety, these contentious conversations are not optional. At The Foray Firm, we work tirelessly to protect families going through transition. While we believe that mental illnesses do not always impact parenting abilities, we also prioritize children’s safety in all cases. If you are concerned about your co-parent’s parenting abilities, contact our Joliet child custody attorneys at 312-702-1293 to discuss your options.





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