Many people who get involved in divorce and child custody cases believe that if they can prove the other parent has a mental health issue, the courts will automatically rule in their favor. However, this is not the case. The mental health and stability of all individuals involved is only one factor used to determine parental responsibility in Colorado. Working with a custody attorney can help you protect your rights, your child and your family in this situation.
How the Family Courts Determine Mental Fitness
The mental health of both parents is something that will be carefully taken into consideration during a custody case in Colorado. Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD and substance abuse may affect an individual’s parenting ability. This is what the courts set out to determine when a custody case involves a parent with a history of mental illness. The courts may use many tools to determine a parent’s mental and psychological fitness to care for a child, including:
Any patterns of domestic violence, child neglect or abuse. If a parent’s mental health issue has a history of interfering with his or her ability to parent a child, any past incidents will be carefully analyzed and factored into the custody decision.
Psychiatric examination. A judge will order a psychiatric examination of one or both parents if this is requested by either party. Psychological testing can help a judge understand the parent’s mental state or a diagnosed disorder, as well as how this issue may impact the parent’s ability to properly care for a child.
Medical information. According to HIPAA laws, many medical documents and records are protected information and cannot be used in court. However, testimony from relevant medical experts could be used to prove that a parent presents a danger to him or herself or others.
Substance abuse allegations. If a judge becomes aware of a substance abuse problem by either parent, this can negatively impact that parent’s chances of obtaining child custody. In this case, a judge may order a drug or alcohol screening test or require the parent to submit to testing before visitation with the child.
There are many different custody arrangements that a judge can assign in Colorado. If a judge determines that a mental health issue precludes a parent from primary custody, that parent could still obtain shared or joint custody or visitation rights. It is also possible to request a modification of a child custody agreement in the future if anything changes, such as a change in either parent’s mental state.
Other Elements of a Child Custody Case
The allocation of parental responsibilities in Colorado involves more than just one parent’s mental health issues. According to Colorado Revised Statutes Section 14-10-124, the main factor that a judge will look at when determining custody is the child’s best interests. This standard has a broad scope, meaning that a judge can analyze many different parts of a child’s life to determine the arrangement that will best protect his or her well-being. These factors include:
How emotionally connected the child is to either parent
The child’s ties to his or her home, community and nearby relatives
The physical and mental fitness of all individuals involved
Each parent’s history of allowing the child to have continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent
The ability of a parent to place the child’s needs over his or her own
The distance between the two households
What the child wants, in some cases
Colorado law specifically states that a disability alone is not a basis to deny or restrict parental responsibilities. This includes a mental disability or diagnosed mental health issue. Instead, the courts are required to analyze all factors that could play a role in a child’s physical health and safety, emotional development, and overall happiness. If you or your spouse has a mental health issue, contact an attorney for assistance with this delicate situation. With representation from an attorney, you can make the strongest case possible for your desired custody arrangement to protect your child.