Few allegations damage a custody case like reports of mental health problems. Criminal charges, family violence, and drug use all cause obstacles for parents fighting for custody. However, criminal convictions don’t last forever. Family violence risks can be mitigated. Drug use can be rehabilitated. But allegations of mental health problems of a parent cause serious long-term problems in custody cases. Mere allegations of suicidal thoughts often completely up-end the status quo in parenting relationships.
Allegations of Suicidal Thoughts or Behavior
Allegations that a parent made suicidal statements can severely damage a custody case. The allegations need not be solid or provable. The mere allegation that a parent has been suicidal often sways the court to remove the children from that parent. The courts prioritize the safety of the children. So, when the court becomes aware of a parent’s suicidal tendencies, the court acts to protect the children. First, the court typically severely limits the parent’s time with the children. Placing the children with the other parent and requiring supervised visits frequently occurs as well. Once the other parent gains custody, regaining custody is extremely hard.
Suicidal thoughts differ from other allegations in one important way. The accused parent must then prove his or her mental stability. Other types of serious allegations fail to damage a custody case like allegations of suicidal thoughts. Family violence, while serious, can be overcome in a case. For example, a single instance of mild family violence stemming from an argument between the parents that did not affect the children may not effect a custody order. Likewise, drug use by parent can be overcome. Successive testing showing no drug use assures the court the parent no longer uses drugs. Thus, the children are not in danger around that parent. Even criminal convictions do not necessarily equal a reduction in custody. Certainly, a conviction for a non-violent crime may not affect a custody order. But allegations of suicidal thoughts are different.
The Difference With Suicide Allegations
The difference with suicidal allegations is that the parent must prove he or she is not suicidal. The parent must prove a negative. The parent must seek psychological evaluations, psychiatric care, psychotropic medication, counseling, or all of the above to assure the court that there is no risk of suicide. The accused parent bears all of the assessment and treatment costs involved too. Additionally, the courts commonly order supervised visitation with the children until the psychological assessments show the parent is safe. Sufficient treatment requires weeks or months of expensive work from mental health professionals.
Recommendations if You Struggle with Mental Health Issues
As dedicated family lawyers, we deal with mental health allegations regularly. We have represented parents who believe their spouse is suicidal. Likewise, we occasionally represent good parents who struggle with suicidal tendencies. Based on our experience, here are our recommendations:
- First and foremost, if you are suicidal seek the help of a licensed psychological or psychiatric professional. Your safety is job one. You can’t be a parent if you’re not alive. You can’t be a good parent if you consider harming yourself or others. Getting treatment is crucial.
- SHUT YOUR MOUTH. Do not tell anyone other than your doctor or your treating mental health professional about your suicidal thoughts. Be open and honest with your doctor or mental health professional about your thoughts and circumstances. But do not tell friends, family, coworkers, the other parent, Facebook, Instagram, or any other person about your suicidal thoughts until you get treatment. That means if at all possible, seek treatment by yourself. In a custody battle your friends and family can be required to testify against you. The other parent will certainly testify about your suicidal thoughts. The more people who know, the more likely you lose your case.
- EXCEPTION: Tell your lawyer. Once you are undergoing treatment and you are safe, tell your lawyer about your situation. Your lawyer cannot reveal privileged or confidential information that would damage your case. So, your mental health secret is safe with your lawyer.
- Keep in mind, your lawyer has a duty to report abuse, imminent danger to the children, and other safety issues. If your lawyer becomes aware that you are suicidal, he or she should seek treatment for you. However, the facts concerning your treatment are confidential and/or privileged. So only your lawyer, you, and the mental health facility will know about your treatment.
Mental health issues are what they are. Good people sometimes struggle with mental health problems. The courts generally don’t begrudge a parent who is undergoing therapy and/or who properly takes prescribed medications. That is, the courts do not require perfect mental health. However, the courts must be convinced that the mental health issues of a parent do not endanger the children. Getting the court the proof it needs to believe a parent is not a threat, is a long, arduous, and expensive undertaking.
If you need help by all means get help. If you are suicidal, seek immediate help from a licensed mental health facility. Keep the circle of people who know about your circumstances as small as possible. Get help first. Tell your lawyer after your safe.
Youngblood Law, PLLC is a Fort Worth, Texas law firm dedicated to family law. We help good people who are trapped in bad relationships find the freedom to pursue their new happily ever after. We also proudly offer the collaborative divorce process for our clients. This essay is intended for educational use only and is not a replacement for competent legal counsel. If you are facing a family law matter, we recommend obtaining competent legal counsel like Youngblood Law, PLLC. For more information, contact us at (817) 601-5345, find us on the web at youngblood-law.com.