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Impact of Mental Illness on Child Custody in California

Posted by Michael Geller | Feb 01, 2022 | 0 Comments

A divorce case involving a parent with a mental illness or psychological condition is inherently complex and will prove challenging. Why? Because the terms “mental illness” and “psychological condition” are quite broad and may include a parent who is depressed, a parent with anxiety, and/or a parent struggling with dissociative personality disorder, bipolar disorder, or another serious condition. As you can tell, the nature of each disorder is different, which typically means how a particular mental illness or condition will impact a particular child custody case varies and is unpredictable.

Overview of How Courts Generally Decide Child Custody in California

When it comes to the matter of child custody, California courts focus on the best interests of the child. That is the governing standard, and the court will examine various factors to ultimately determine what is in a child's best interests when it comes to custody. In California, a court is empowered to grant one of three types of child custody:

  1. Sole custody, which is where one parent always has the child, and the other parent gets visitation on a very limited basis or not at all.
  2. Primary custody, which is where one parent has the child most the time and the other has regularly scheduled visits, such as on the weekends.
  3. Joint custody, which is where both parents share the child on an equal or almost-equal basis.

Impact of Mental Illness on Child Custody During a Divorce Proceeding

When one parent suffers from a mental health issue, California courts typically assess the parent's ability to provide a safe environment for the child, or children. Depending on the specific mental illness or condition, there is a possibility it could impact both physical custody and legal custody, along with the right to make major, life-altering decisions for the child. Major decisions that could be impacted include the following:

  • Health care decisions,
  • Educational decisions, and/or
  • Religious decisions.

If a California court determines that your condition means you are unfit or unable to make legal decisions, there is the risk that you could lose custody of your child. Similarly, a parent with a mental illness or condition that poses a risk to the health and safety of the child may not receive physical custody, or even visitation rights.

How California Law Treats Mental Illness in the Context of Child Custody

In California, it is important to understand that the mere existence of a mental illness does not, in and of itself, prohibit a parent from obtaining custody over their child. Rather, a California court will analyze the situation and the specific facts that are unique to your case. Ultimately, the court will make a decision that is predicated on the best interests of your child.

Of course, the severity of the mental illness could very well impact the court's decision, particularly if the condition is one that may pose a safety risk to the child.

On the other hand, if the parent is still fully functioning and able to care for the child, a California court retains the authority to award custody and/or visitation rights safely and competently.

Involved in a Custody Dispute in Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, and Contra Costa County Where the Issue of Mental Health is Involved? Take Action and Contact The Geller Firm Today

If you have questions related to the laws and guidelines governing child custody in Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, or anywhere in Contra Costa County, California, now is the time to contact The Geller Firm. Our team of experienced and respected Lafayette child support and child custody attorneys are here to help. We are in the San Francisco Bay Area and are proud to provide legal services in Lafayette and Contra Costa County, along with San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and Pleasanton. Our legal team is available for virtual and in-person consultations. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

About the Author

Michael Geller

Michael Geller grew up in San Francisco, CA. He attended the University of Southern California for his undergraduate studies, the City University of New York for his medical training, and Santa Clara University School of Law for his legal education.


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