How Mental Health Affects Child Custody Arrangements

It’s a nightmare scenario for any parent: you and your ex have settled or are in the process of deciding custody for your children, and you have significant doubts about the mental wellness of your co-parent. If your ex is suffering from suicidal ideation, drug and alcohol dependency, or another type of mental illness, do these factors play a part in your custody case? California law says yes.

The team of family law attorneys at The Grey Legal Group can help you understand the complex process of deciding custody arrangements in the state of California. Below we discuss how mental health affects child custody arrangements and what factors determine the amount of access you and your spouse will have to your child. For more information on custody and any further specific questions you have on family law matters, schedule a free consultation with The Grey Legal Group.

(Note: some of the following subject matter may be difficult to read and mentions talk of suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 988 or visit to get help.)

How Mental Health Affects Child Custody Arrangements

What Factors Affect Custody In California?

There are many factors that determine child custody in California, but the most significant issue to a judge is acting in the best interest of the child. What is and is not in the best interest of the child will depend heavily on the unique circumstances of each case, but the custody court will always seek to make decisions that keep the child out of danger and allow them to thrive. Additionally, California generally tries to prioritize joint custody arrangements on the basis that it’s important for a child’s healthy development to have access to both parents.

Are there factors that will cause a judge to believe that it is in the best interest of the child to not have a relationship with one parent? If a judge has reason to believe that a parent or their lifestyle pose a threat to the child’s safety, they can be denied custody. The state of your mental health, therefore, can become an essential factor in the level of access you have to your child.

Suicide Attempts And Ideation

If you attempt suicide or have a history or suicide attempts or ideation, you can lose access to custody of your child. The paramount concern when it comes to suicidal parents is that the parent might attempt to kill themselves while in possession of the child. There is a large concern about the child discovering the body of their parent and having to bear the trauma of what they witness.

There is also concern that a parent might harm their child, whether intentionally or unintentionally, during a suicidal episode. In some cases, a child might injure themselves trying to prevent a parent from self-harming. In other cases, darker turns of events can lead a mentally unwell parent to decide on a murder-suicide. If a parent is using a weapon like a gun to commit suicide, events can spiral tragically in many ways. For these reasons, parents who have a documented history of suicidal ideation or who attempt suicide during the high-stress custody process can be considered a potential danger to the child.

If you believe your co-parent to have significant suicidal tendencies, mental health professionals connected with the court can conduct an investigation and a judge will recommend an arrangement based on these evaluations.

However, if you have struggled with depression or suicide in the past, but do not anymore, your spouse may use your mental health history as a weapon in a custody battle. You need an experienced attorney on your side who can build a strong case in defense of your parenting abilities.

Drug And Alcohol Addiction

The dangers drugs and alcohol pose to children, especially when they are used irresponsibly by caregivers, are of significant concern to a child custody court. Not only do people dependent on drugs and alcohol act erratically, there is also the danger that children will ingest unsecured intoxicants or pick up bad habits over time. There are other associated dangers, such as the concern that an intoxicated parent cannot ensure children will be fed regularly, supervised correctly, or transported safely. For these reasons, courts take drug and alcohol addiction in custody cases very seriously.

If there is reason to believe that a parent is dependent on drugs and alcohol, a judge will order mandatory evaluations to determine the type and degree of the substance abuse problem. These tests can include blood, urine, and hair follicle tests, as well as mental health evaluations. A court might mandate that you continue with regular drug testing in order to judge your recovery. If it is determined that a parent is suffering a significant substance abuse problem, their custody might potentially be limited to supervised visitation or something equivalent, such as video calls.

Whether you once struggled with addiction but are now sober and your spouse is using your history as a weapon against you or if you have concerns about your child’s other parent’s history with drugs and alcohol, an attorney can make your case before a judge.

Mental Illness

If you are living with mental illness, a California judge determines how it will play a role in your custody arrangement. There are a variety of types of mental illness, and not all of them mean that the sufferer is ill-suited for parenthood, so judges will decide these situations on a case-by-case basis.

When determining custody, a judge will evaluate your medical history to decide whether there is a pattern of neglect or abuse of the child or if the nature of your condition means that you could pose a threat to the safety of your child. If it can be demonstrated that you are able to take care of your child’s needs and provide a safe, consistent, and attentive environment, a judge will likely award you joint custody regardless of the existence of a documented mental illness.

Can I Regain Custody Of My Child?

If you have lost custody of your child because of poor mental health, you can still appeal for custody if you are able to demonstrate that you have taken significant steps in improving your mental stability. Depending on your circumstances, this might mean regularly attending and making breakthroughs in your therapeutic practice, attending sobriety meetings, performing cleanly on your mandatory drug testing, or demonstrating that your mental health has improved with the help of medication. If you believe that it is in the best interest of your child that you retain them in your care, you can ask the court to modify your child custody arrangement.

Contact The Grey Legal Group For Further Information

For all concerns regarding child custody, The Grey Legal Group has decades of combined experience to offer in helping you resolve your issues. Whether you are seeking a new child custody arrangement, have a concern about your co-parent, or are looking to modify your arrangement, we can assist you with sound legal guidance. Reach out to us to schedule a free consultation and learn why we have earned a reputation for passionate and compassionate family representation.

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The Grey Legal Group

At The Grey Legal Group, we believe in helping all families with their legal needs so they can be protected on your journey back to a calmer, happier place of stability. Whether it is divorce, child custody, guardianship, domestic violence, or adoption, we have seen it all before and we can help you through it. With the legal knowledge and experience we bring to the table, we will be certain to find the best and most efficient solution to your situation.

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