Handling Custody When Your Ex-Spouse Develops Mental Health Issues

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 43 million people over the age of 18 were suffering from some form of mental illnesses as of 2012. How and when those illnesses develop is as varied as the people experiencing them. Whether your ex-spouse has struggled with mental illness for years or recently acquired a psychological disorder, your first priority is to ensure he or she is capable of maintaining a healthy home for your children. Here are your options if you suspect your ex-spouse is having difficulty parenting because of a mental health issue.

Talk to Your Ex-Spouse

Before you take any action, you should aim to get a clear understanding of the situation and give your ex-spouse an opportunity to explain his or her behavior. For instance, your ex may have switched to a new medication and had a bad reaction to it that caused some concerning behavior. The last thing you want to do is get into a legal battle over something that may only be a mild or temporary issue.

Be aware, though, that mental illness is a sensitive issue for many. It's essential that you approach your ex with tact and empathy, especially if the person is behaving erratically. Depending on the severity of the issue, the way you talk to your ex about his or her problem could appear threatening and may cause the person to react in a negative or counterproductive way. If you need assistance broaching the subject, connect with a mental health expert for help.

Negotiate Temporary Custody

If your ex-spouse's mental health problems are serious or he or she feels taking a break from having the kids is appropriate, negotiate temporary physical custody. While you and your ex-spouse can develop an informal agreement, it may be best to have the courts make an official adjustment to the custody contract. If there is a dispute about the terms of the agreement at a later date that leads to a formal lawsuit, the court may find your spouse was unable to consent to the contract because of his or her mental illness.

At the very least, there should be a neutral third-party present such as an attorney to witness the agreement. If a problem arises at a later date about the terms of the temporary custody, you'll at least have another person who can provide testimony about your ex-spouse's state of mind.

Apply for Permanent Custody

Sometimes a person's mental health situation is too dire or cannot be resolved within a reasonable amount of time, and petitioning the court for permanent custody is the best option for the children involved. Your spouse may agree. If that's the case, then the two of you can simply amend the divorce agreement to award you sole or primary custody of the children.

If your spouse is resistant to your efforts to take the kids, you'll need to have the court award custody to you. You'll have to show that your spouse's mental health issues are interfering with his or her ability to properly care for the children or provide a safe environment for them.

Before it can act, the court will require an official diagnosis of the person's condition. Your testimony regarding your ex's behavior and other anecdotal evidence provided by other people can only be used to support a mental health professional's assessment of the person's condition.

If you know your spouse was formally diagnosed and who the doctor was that evaluated him or her, you can subpoena your ex's medical records for review by the court. If you don't have this information, then you can petition the court to order your ex to undergo evaluation by a mental health professional.

In this situation, a court appointed psychologist or psychiatrist will assess the person and submit a report to the court. Be aware, though, that the court may also order you to undergo the same evaluation just to be certain you are psychologically fit to have custody of the kids.

Once the evaluation is complete, be certain to submit any supporting evidence to the court as well, such as emails, recorded phone calls, and social media posts showing your ex's state of mind. The court will then make a determination--based on the evidence--whether awarding you permanent custody is appropriate.

Handling custody issues with a spouse who is suffering from a mental illness can be challenging. Consult with an attorney to learn about other options that may be available to help you resolve the situation. Visit a site like http://www.hartlawofficespc.net for more information on custody attorneys.