In a contested child custody dispute, if one of the parents suffers from mental illness, it is a factor to be considered in the court’s custody decision. Many parents going through a custody battle suffer from conditions such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or a personality disorder.
The statutory provision of Minn. Stat. Section 518.17 regarding mental illness provides for the court to consider “the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; except that a disability, as defined in section 363A.03, of a proposed custodian or the child shall not be determinative of the custody of the child, unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interest of the child.”
(Note: the aforementioned definition of “disability” is “any condition or characteristic that renders a person a disabled person. A disabled person is any person who (1) has a physical, sensory, or mental impairment which materially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.”)
If one parent (Parent A) suffers from mental illness, the question is whether the other parent (Parent B) holds a “trump card” as a result of first parent’s mental disorder. A case of untreated or unmanaged mental illness may place the parent (Parent A) at a disadvantage. It is important to note the difference, however, if a parent is managing their mental disorder. The issue is the child’s best interests, so if the mentally ill parent is managing their illness (with proper medication, following a caregiver’s recommendations, etc.) then it does not compromise the child’s best interests to be in the care of that parent, and may not provide the other parent (Parent B) with a “trump card.”
A parent suffering from mental illness is well-served to be candid about their condition. In most cases, the parent’s openness will cause the family court to consider the mental health issue in a light most favorable to the candid parent.