Are family courts biased against parents with diagnosed mental illness when deciding custody?
Yes, but under certain circumstances.
A common tactic in child custody disputes is to accuse the other parent of being mentally ill and a danger to the children. Courts are so accustomed to perfunctory allegations of mental illness being thrown around that courts often become jaded and skeptical, and as a result they sometimes won’t place much stock in such claims. So to those of you thinking that going off half-cocked and accusing your spouse of mental illness will give you a cheap, easy advantage, it won’t do you much good (and may undermine your credibility) without an actual diagnosis by a qualified neutral professional, at the very least.
But if a court does acknowledge a parent suffers from mental illness, then yes, there is frequently a bias against that parent. It’s not right, but to some extent, can you condemn them for such a bias? If one parent suffers from no disabilities and the other does (mental and/or physical), right there you have a difference that certainly does the disabled parent no favors in the child custody analysis.
Many people fear mental the mentally ill because they don’t understand mental illness (and have little interest in gaining a greater understanding), so when one does not understand and fears something, one tends avoid that thing. Courts thus often mistreat a mentally ill parent because those courts A) don’t know if the mental illness will render a parent unfit to exercise custody and B) don’t really want to know if the mental illness will render a parent unfit to exercise custody.*
*Note, however, that many judges and other judicial officers suffer from an unusually high incidence of mental health issues (depression and other mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, sex addiction, etc.) and in those cases they may be hypersensitive to reckless allegations that mental illness = parental unfitness.
So if you suffer from mental illness, and if the court expresses concern about it, and if you can prove your mental illness does not pose a threat to the well-being of the children, then bury the court in useful data and facts that prove this six ways from Sunday. Merely trying to reason with someone who doesn’t understand or care to understand mental illness is not enough. Give’em so much evidence that they can’t rule any other way without knowing they’ll be overturned on appeal. Yes, it’s very expensive and requires great and sustained effort. That’s the way it goes. There’s no easier way.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277