Can I lose custody of my kids due to mental illness?

Parents struggling with mental health issues often worry that their mental illness could cause them to lose custody of their children. It's a valid concern, especially if there is already an ongoing custody battle over the children.

Statistics have shown that the rates for loss of custody from parents with mental illnesses can be as high as 80 percent. As a result, parents with mental illnesses lose custody of their kids to the other parent, a relative or the state with greater frequency than those parents who were not diagnosed with mental health issues.

In fact, just a third of kids are reared by their parent if the parent has a serious mental illness. Parents can lose custody at least temporarily if they are hospitalized for psychiatric reasons. Often, grandparents step in informally to fill that role, but sometimes the kids are involuntarily placed with strangers in foster care.

But all is not lost if you are a parent living with mental illness. Courts have found that mental disability without other concurrent factors at play is insufficient to establish that a mom or dad is unfit. Yet there are psychiatric conditions with symptoms severe enough to render parents unfit to retain custody of their kids.

Unfortunately, some of those conditions require medications with side effects so adverse that simply being compliant with your medication treatment plan could jeopardize your custody of your children.

What the law looks at in these type of cases is basically this — does the parent's mental illness impair him or her to the degree that the children would be in imminent danger from neglect or abuse if they remain with the mentally ill parent? If that is deemed to be the case, the mentally ill parent could have the kids removed from his or her care.

Sometimes, if parents are provided with outside support and services, they may be able to continue successfully parenting their children despite struggling with mental illnesses. If you are a parent who is threatened with losing custody of your children due to mental illness, it is wise to seek guidance and advice on how to best protect your rights to custody.

Source: Healthy Place, "Parents with Mental Illness and Child Custody Issues," accessed Feb. 23, 2018

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