Mental illness can have extensive affects on every aspect of the life of a person suffering from mental illness as well as their friends and family. Likewise, child custody decisions can be impacted by either parties mental health issues. However, a mental illness does not necessarily mean that a parent will not be awarded custody or a significant amount of parenting time. This blog explores how mental health issues impact child custody decisions in Indiana.
Indiana’s child custody order statute (I.C. 31-17-2-8) provides that custody shall be awarded based on the best interests of the child and lists several factors the court must consider when determining the child’s best interest. These factors include, but are not limited to, the age of the child, the child’s wishes, with more weight given to a child’s wishes when they are 14 years of age or older, the child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community, the child’s relationship with each parent, and the mental health of all parties. While the court must consider all factors listed in the statute and all other factor that affects the child’s best interests, it may give more weight to any one factor (Gilbert v. Gilbert, 7 N.E.3d 316 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014)). In Trammel, the court gave considerable weight and consideration to the children’s wishes, as they were all 14 years old or older (Trammel v. Trammel, No. 22A-DR-2032 (Ind. App. May 17, 2023). In Pitcavage, the court placed a significant amount of weight on mother’s emotional instability and dysfunctional relationship with the child (Pitcavage v. Pitcavage, 11 N.E.3d 547 (Ind. App. 2014)). Minor mental health issues that do not affect the child or the parents ability to parent may be given very little weight.
In Indiana, physical custody is awarded based on the best interests of the child. So, when a parent has a mental illness, the focus of the court will not simply be on the fact that they have a mental illness, but instead on how the illness affects the child. It will consider the parents ability to keep the child safe, healthy, and happy as well as what type of home environment the parent provides the child and the type and severity of the mental illness, as well as any treatment the parent is receiving (Marriage Divide). Parents with a mental illness that effects their decision making ability may have a difficult time getting legal custody, which allows the parent to make major decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as healthcare, education, and religious training. Treatment, however, may help the parent regain some of the lost mental functioning in order to allow them to share joint legal custody. A parent who suspects or knows they have a mental illness should seek diagnosis and treatment from a qualified healthcare provider if they wish to retain custody or parenting time with the child.
The parenting time rights statute (I.C. 31-17-4-1) provides that a non-custodial parent shall have reasonable parenting time with the child unless the court finds, after hearing, that parenting time may might endanger the child's physical health or significantly impair the child's emotional development. A parent may argue that the other’s mental illness does just that in order to prevent them from being awarded parenting time, decrease the amount of parenting time awarded, or have their parenting time ordered to be supervised. Producing medical records and having a therapist or treating psychologist or psychiatrist testify regarding your ability to keep your child safe and provide for their basic needs can help protect your custody and parenting time rights.
Overall, mental health issues may or may not impact child custody or parenting time decisions. Every child is different as is every parent with a mental illness. Parents who can keep their child safe, provide for their basic needs, and stay focused on their best interests are less likely to lose custody or parenting time than those whose mental illness prevents them from properly caring for the child. While some parents may avoid seeking treatment for a mental illness, for fear of losing their child, it is always best to get the treatment needed so that you can show the court you are working on your mental health and getting the treatment needed to better care for your child. Mental health is only one of the factors the court will consider when making a custody determination, and even parents with mental health issues may still be awarded custody or full parenting time rights.
If you or your child’s other parent are suffering from a mental illness and involved in a custody dispute, the experienced attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. can help protect you and your child’s rights. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.