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Handling a custody battle with a mentally ill spouse

What do you do about custody if you suspect that your divorcing spouse is mentally ill?

This can be tricky ground to tread, because you can’t just make accusations and expect the court to believe you. At the same time, you may be genuinely worried about the safety of your children if your spouse is given unsupervised visitation or even shared physical custody.

These are the steps that you need to take:

1. Tell your attorney about your concerns right away. Be very specific about why you think that mental illness is a factor. For example, has your spouse threatened suicide? Does he or she admit to being depressed? Be clear about exactly how you think your spouse’s illness, if it exists, could affect his or her ability to parent safely and effectively.

2. Provide your attorney with the names and contact information of any doctors that your spouse uses for medical care. It’s possible that your spouse has already been diagnosed with a mental disorder — in which case your attorney may be able to subpoena the doctor’s notes or testimony if no other evidence is available.

3. Be prepared to file a request with the court for a mental health evaluation. Family courts usually have the ability to compel someone to submit to psychological testing if there’s no other evidence available. While this can help you get a formal diagnosis to enter into the record, realize that this is probably not going to make your relationship with your spouse go any easier for the time being.

4. Be prepared to undergo psychological testing yourself. False allegations of mental illness are a common weapon in family court, so the judge may also want to get an expert’s take on your mental stability — just in case.

5. Be open to compromise. Mental illness or not, your spouse is still your children’s other parent. Unless you believe that any contact is potentially dangerous, be open to solutions like supervised visitation, or visitation that’s contingent on your spouse getting treatment for his or her condition.

For more information on how our firm approaches the issue of child custody, please visit our web pages on the topic.