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Could mental illness cause you to lose custody of your kids?

Mental illness robs its sufferers of many things, but perhaps the cruelest is the right to parent their own children. Loss of custody rates for those diagnosed with mental illnesses can be as high as 80%.

If you are a parent who is living with a mental illness, you could one day find yourself in that unfortunate number. Below are some things that you should know about parenting your children while coping with mental illness.

Your diagnosis alone is not enough to cause a loss of custody

Mental illness is comprised of a spectrum of disorders. On one end of the spectrum, a parent may experience anxiety that affects their quality of life. On the other end, however, can be an actively psychotic schizophrenic parent holding a knife to their terrified child's throat. Obviously, the latter case is extreme, but no one in their own right mind would advocate for that parent to keep custody of their child.

But in the first example, the parent may be able to manage to competently care for the children with few problems. Challenging their parenting skills simply because they suffer from anxiety would likely fail in a bid for custody.

Over-medication could render parents unfit

Using that same example, suppose that a parent is so crippled by anxiety that they double their dosage of Xanax just to be able to leave the house and accompany their child to a social function. Driving drugged with the child in the car could place the child and parent and all who share the road with them in harm's way.

Rigorously following your doctor's prescribed medication dosage schedule can avoid this problem.

A strong support system can help you maintain custody in a crisis

Like many physical diseases, a parent suffering from a mental disorder can find themselves occasionally in crisis. A person diagnosed with bipolar disorder could find themselves in the midst of a manic or depressive episode and require immediate hospitalization in order to stabilize themselves. Having a suitable relative or friend able and available to step in and care for the kids could avoid a custody loss.

Your mental illness could be weaponized in a custody battle

If you are going through a contested divorce, be prepared for your ex to challenge your mental fitness as a parent. Your Pleasanton divorce attorney can mitigate this damage if you share your concerns with them.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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