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Mental illness: a significant consideration in child custody

On Behalf of | Aug 18, 2022 | Custody

Child custody analysis requires courts to weigh numerous and often conflicting factors to determine to whom they should grant physical and/or legal custody. Mental illness represents perhaps the best example of how courts balance these interests.

Parents retain a right, though not unrestricted, to bear and raise their children; however, governments must protect children from abuse, neglect, or imminent danger. In addition to these legal issues, studies have shown that the prevalence of mental illness extracts a heavy toll on parents and children.

 Who will provide care in place of an incapable parent?

State laws, to varying degrees, consider the mental stability of the parents or household members in their assessment. Pennsylvania considers it among 15 other factors in awarding custody.

The primary reasons for states to take away custody include the severity of the illness and an absence of other adults in the household. The loss of custody to a parent with mental illness can aggravate the condition and decreases the likelihood of regaining it.

Rates for loss of child custody among parents with mental illness well exceed those without, reaching as high as 80% percent. Despite those numbers, one-third of children with a parent suffering from mental illness are raised by that parent. Though substantial in aggregate numbers, Pennsylvania ranks low in terms of the prevalence of mental illness in 2022 according to Mental Health America.

A natural bond exists between parent and child. However, the law recognizes circumstances under which the relationship, no longer healthful for either, must change. An attorney with knowledge and understanding of the process can guide you.