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Mental Health Issues in Child Custody

In many child custody cases or situations, there are issues raised concerning one or both parent’s mental health issues, diagnoses and/or concerns. Often, one parent will contend that the other parent has mental health conditions that should prevent or limit their ability to parent and the parent suffering with a mental health condition will allege that it is well-treated, medicated, if necessary, under control and should not hinder or limit in any way their ability to parent. 

How are Mental Health Conditions Viewed and Considered by the Family Court in Missouri and Kansas?

Mental health conditions are quite common today. Perhaps there is better access to medical care and treatment and thus, we’re seeing higher levels of diagnosis than we ever have historically. Alternatively, it could be that there is more stress, issues, and problems that are creating mental health needs. However, the current statistics indicate that one in every four to five adults in this country suffer from a mental health problem. No wonder the family courts are seeing a large number of child custody cases that involve issues or concerns for mental health problems. There are, in fact, many parents that have mental health diagnoses and use a combination of medication, counseling or other therapy to keep their mental health conditions well-controlled and they do not affect parenting of a child in any way. 

If your child’s other parent or spouse has suffered from mental health conditions or issues or concerns, you are likely well-reasoned to be questioning whether the diagnoses are well-controlled and whether they will have an impact on the parent’s ability to parent in an on-going way. This is particularly true if you have experienced negative ramifications from your spouse’s interactions with the family due to mental health issues during your marriage.

Should you ask for Mental Health Testing or Psychological Testing in your child custody case?

Courts in Missouri and Kansas, prioritize seeking the child’s best interests. Courts ultimately make their decision about child custody issues based upon considerations of all of the evidence presented to them, the testimony of the parties and other witnesses, the arguments of the lawyers and all of the evidence and arguments presented to them. A parent’s mental or psychological state is a critical consideration for the court in determining the custody arrangements and best interests of the children.

If the mental health of a parent is in conflict between the parents, often the court will order a mental evaluation to take place. While some judges ignore such an evaluation or indicate that it is not very helpful or informative to them, many judges will indicate that it provides them additional, valuable information in making important custody decisions for your children. Generally, the request for a party to undergo a mental health evaluation or psychological testing begins with the other party filing a motion requesting this from the court. From there, the other party can either agree to submit to a mental health evaluation (which often occurs if the party seeking the evaluation will agree to pay for it) or the party can fight or object to the motion, often requiring a formal hearing before the judge to take place 

What are the reasons that the court may consider ordering a mental health evaluation?

While every family situation and circumstance is unique, some common motivations for ordering a mental evaluation may include the parent having a history of psychological issues and the court wanting to determine what the parent’s mental health status is currently, a history of questionable or erratic parenting behaviors, alcohol and/or drug use or dependency or abuse, child abuse allegations, or neglect allegations.

You need an experienced family law attorney to help you navigate these important decisions. Making sure your children’s safety and needs are taken care of is one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent. On the other hand, if a parent is falsely alleging that you have mental health issues and trying to unnecessarily limit your parenting rights and access to your children, it is imperative that you get a knowledgeable child custody attorney on your side to help you navigate and skillfully address these issues.

What happens after the mental health evaluation is completed?

Once the evaluation is completed and the testing results or report of the evaluation are shared with the parties, sometimes the results can help the parties resolve or settle their disputes and come to an agreed parenting plan. This can happen if the results show that the parent does have mental health concerns. Some parents will embrace the results of such an evaluation and begin to seek the help and intervention they may need to address their issues and concerns. On the other hand, if the evaluation comes back and indicates there are no issues with a parent’s mental health, often the other parent will accept the results and move forward with a resolution of the parenting issues.

Some parents, however, elect to not accept the results of the evaluation issued. If a parent gets the results and they indicate mental health concerns, some parents will attempt to seek one or more “second opinions” to try to defeat the findings in the initial mental health evaluation or report. Similarly, if a report comes back with no concerns but a parent is convinced that concerns for the other parent exist, often that parent will engage in various discovery strategies or even seek an expert witness who can help point out and discuss the mental health issues the parent believes exist in the other parent.

It is important for you to understand that even if a report indicates that a parent has mental health issues or diagnoses, the court is not required to find that the mental health issues negatively affect his or her ability to parent the child. These are all issues that the court can consider and decide. Similarly, if the court decides there is no treatment for a parent’s psychological conditions or diagnoses, the court can determine that parenting time or unsupervised time is not appropriate for the parent.

If the other parent is asking that I get a mental health evaluation, can I require they get one too?

If you request a mental evaluation of the other party, often he or she will say that they will participate in an evaluation if you do one too. You need to consider and be prepared to submit to an evaluation if requested. Additionally, if the issue is presented to the court, the judge could determine that it is only fair if both parties equally participate in a mental health evaluation. Some judges believe this ensures a fair process for both parties and that neither party is making the request for an evaluation to get an unfair advantage, embarrass the other party or abuse the legal system. 

As outlined herein, mental health issues in child custody cases often present difficult and complex issues that require knowledge, experience and skill to address. Our attorneys have a dogged determination to fight for what’s right with exceptional mental and emotional fortitude. Allow the experienced and skilled family law attorneys at Pingel Family Law to help you navigate through these complex and difficult issues. Call today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation. 

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