How much does mental illness affect a child custody decision?

men's divorce lawyer Rachel BrucksQuestion:

My wife and I are in the midst of a custody battle for our child. The Guardian ad Litem is currently doing a case study. The one question I keep having is why my wife’s schizophrenia is not a factor in the custody determination?

I have been told since she has never hurt anyone this isn’t an issue and can’t be used in court to help determine what is in the best interest of our child.

How is her medically diagnosed condition of schizophrenia not a factor? That doesn’t make any sense!

Answer:

I do not practice in Connecticut. Therefore, I cannot inform you as to the specific laws in Connecticut. I cannot tell from your question who told you that your wife’s mental illness cannot be used by the court as a factor in determining the best interest of your daughter.

In Texas, where I practice, the court can consider a nearly-limitless range of factors when determining the best interest of a child, with only very few restrictions (such as a party’s race or marital status).

A party’s history of mental illness would certainly be weighed by the court. While it is true that evidence a party was merely diagnosed with a mental illness may not be as strong an argument as evidence of that person’s repeated negligent or damaging actions towards the child as a result of their mental illness, the diagnosis is still something courts normally factor into their decision.

Some states may prohibit judges from using a party’s diagnosis of a physical or mental disability as the sole factor in the judge’s decision, but they can certainly hear evidence regarding the illness. Plus, the events surrounding the disability or illness can usually always be weighed as one of many factors.

Again, the courts’ main concern in custody cases is the best interest of the child, so judges will usually hear and consider nearly any evidence that could affect the child.

Again, I do not practice in Connecticut, but Guardian ad Litems in most states serve as a court-appointed representative for the child’s best interest. They will do a case study or investigation, as you imply that the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is doing in your case, and present a report to the judge about what they believe is in the child’s best interest.

In Texas, judges can sometimes rely heavily on the GAL’s report, depending on the credibility and experience of the GAL, but attorneys for either party can attempt to discredit or contradict the report at trial.

If the GAL is telling you that your ex-wife’s mental illness cannot be a factor at all in the child custody case, do not rely on his or her statements. The GAL does not represent you, and cannot give your legal advice.

It is advisable to consult with an attorney licensed in Connecticut who will represent you and you alone.

 

Rachel A. Brucks is a Staff Attorney in the Fort Worth, Texas office of Cordell & Cordell where she practices domestic relations exclusively. Ms. Brucks is licensed in the state of Texas. Ms. Brucks received her Bachelors degrees in English and Political Science from the University of Texas at Arlington. She received her Masters in Literature and Gender Studies from Texas State University, San Marcos; and received her Juris Doctor from Southern Methodists University, Dallas.

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