Dealing with custody disputes can be an emotionally charged and overwhelming process for anyone. When sensitive issues such as a parent’s suicide attempt come into play, understanding the potential legal implications is crucial. At Youngblood Law, PLLC, we represent parents in family Court for all types of family law cases, including those when suicide attempts are an issue. In this blog post, we discuss the impact of a suicide attempt by a parent on child custody outcomes in Texas and offer guidance on navigating this complex topic.
NOTE: This blog addresses a suicide attempt that has recently occurred, NOT threats of suicide. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or have reason to believe someone else is, then call or text the Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately at 988. The three-digit code is easy to remember, and can save a life!
Impact of Suicidal Attempts in Custody Cases
Suicidal attempts by a parent pose a severe risk to children. Suicide and attempts at suicide are always tragic, and while Texas Courts may have compassion for the struggling parent, the Court has a duty to protect children. When a parent attempts suicide while possessing the child, the child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being are in jeopardy. Witnessing a suicide attempt or discovering a parent’s body could damage a child emotionally for years or decades. But even when a parent attempts suicide when the child is not in their possession, the parent’s mental health and stability become a risk factor for the Court to consider.
Experienced family lawyers like those at Youngblood Law, PLLC can help. When representing a parent who has attempted suicide, we help mitigate the damage to the case and long-term parenting relationship by tailoring our legal strategy to the facts and the individual needs of our client. When we represent the other co-parent, we seek to help show the Court what it will take in the short and long terms to keep the child safe. Either way, making sure the child is safe is always in the child’s best interest, and we are always prepared to represent our clients in Court.
The Best Interest of the Child
In Texas Courts, the primary consideration in all child custody cases is determining the child’s best interest. In fact, the Texas Family Code states that the child’s best interest is always the Court’s priority. This means the Court considers various factors to prioritize the child’s well-being, safety, and emotional stability. These factors can include the parents’ mental and physical health, the child’s relationship with each parent, and each parent’s ability to provide a stable home environment.
Impact of a Suicide Attempt on Child Custody
A suicide attempt can have a significant impact on child custody outcomes. The Court may view the parent’s mental health as a potential risk to the child’s well-being, which could influence the judge’s decision. However, it is essential to note that a suicide attempt does not automatically disqualify a parent from being granted custody or visitation rights. Typically, the Court will decide on a visitation schedule between the parent and the child that ensures the child’s safety. Commonly, the Court will order the visitation to be continually supervised to ensure the child’s mental, emotional, and physical health is protected while the suffering parent seeks treatment.
If the Court determines that the child’s best interest is best served by denying a parent access to the child after a suicide attempt, the suicidal parent will need to seek professional mental health treatment to regain access and possession of the child. Unlike allegations of drug use that can be proved or disproved by lab testing, no lab test will give a pass/fail result for a mental health problem. Therefore, suicidal allegations require in-depth treatment before the Court considers the parent safe with the child.
Evaluating Mental Health
In cases involving a suicide attempt, the Court may require the parent to undergo a mental health evaluation to assess his or her current state and determine his or her ability to care for the child. A licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, typically conduct this evaluation. The findings of this evaluation will play a crucial role in the Court’s decision on custody and visitation rights.
Treatment and Stability
When a parent demonstrates that he or she has sought and completed the necessary mental health treatment and can maintain stability and safety for the child, the Court will likely grant custody or visitation rights. Documentation of treatment progress, such as therapy notes or medical records, can be presented as evidence to show the parent’s commitment to their mental health recovery. A “full recovery” is not required for the Court to increase the parent’s access to the child. When a parent is undergoing treatment, the Court will assess the ongoing care, the progress the parent is making, the state of the relationship between the parent and the child, and other factors to determine if additional visitation is safe for the child.
Courts use different methods for monitoring ongoing mental health treatment. Some Courts require a parent to request an adversarial hearing when the parent feels they have overcome their suicidal issues. In these hearings, the Court hears evidence about the ongoing treatment and prognosis to determine a new possession schedule. Other Courts will set periodic status reviews that are less formal than adversarial hearings. These also focus on the current status of the treatment for the parent. Still, other Courts will set treatment benchmarks that allow the parent’s time with the child to increase or decrease automatically based on specific treatment criteria that have been met or unmet, usually on particular, defined intervals. This model features reduced legal expenses, hassle, and delay since the parents can shift into new visitation schedules without additional Court appearances.
In all of these cases, having an experienced family lawyer on your side is crucial. Presenting and analyzing evidence and testimony in Court can get technical under the rules of Court. Failure to follow legal procedure can prevent a parent from presenting an effective case for or against additional periods of access or possession of the child.
Co-Parenting and Communication
Effective communication and cooperation become even more critical when there is a suicide attempt. Effective communication can help ensure that parents are actively involved in the child’s life while maintaining emotional stability. When a parent has had a suicide attempt, it is essential to establish an effective co-parenting plan. The plan must prioritize the child’s well-being and allow for open communication about ongoing mental health concerns.
Co-Parenting Mistakes to Avoid
The non-suicidal parent must not judge or condescend to the struggling parent. When a parent expresses that they may be having a mental health crisis, compassion for them while prioritizing the child’s best interest prevents roadblocks to communication now and in the future. Consider, if a co-parent expresses their concern about a mental health crisis to the other parent, only to have their statements thrown back into their face, would they ever admit a crisis in the future? The child’s safety might someday hinge on the parent’s willingness to be open to the other parent about their mental health. Using the parent’s admissions about their mental health against them in Court will discourage them from sharing similar information in the future. Encourage the other parent to be honest about their mental health, and focus on being a great co-parent, not just a litigant in a future proceeding. Sometimes, Court proceedings are immediately necessary. Be sure to discuss the facts of the situation with a trusted Family Law attorney so the appropriate legal strategy can be implemented.
Pro Tip: If the other parent expresses that they are going through a mental health crisis, and they want you to take possession of the child while they seek help, do so as quickly and safely as possible. Taking custody of the child keeps the child safe, shows the suffering parent they can trust you, and that you are willing to help.
A suicide attempt by a parent can impact child custody outcomes in Texas. It is crucial to understand that parents’ mental health is a critical factor in determining the child’s best interest. However, demonstrating progress and stability in one’s mental health can still lead to a favorable custody outcome. In many ways, returning to a happy, healthy, balanced state after a suicide attempt can show the Court that you are a better parent than the Court would have ever known before the incident. But the attempt will likely mean you must now prove to the Court that you are safe for the child. Seeking the guidance of an experienced family law attorney can help you navigate the complexities of your child custody case and protect your rights as a parent. If you need legal help in Family Court after a suicide attempt, contact Youngblood Law, PLLC, or an experienced Family Law attorney in your area immediately.
How does a suicide attempt by a parent affect the parent-child relationship?
The Court will see the parent’s willingness to injure themselves as reason for concern for the immediate safety of the child. The Court has a duty to keep the child safe. So when legal action is taken and the Court learns of the suicide attempt, the Court will make new orders for the safety and wellbeing of the child.
Does it matter if the child is in the custody of the parent who attempts suicide at the time of the attempt?
If a parent attempts suicide when the child is in the parent’s custody, the Court will likely see an immediate threat to the safety of the child posed by that parent. The Court will likely take immediate action to make sure the child is safe.
What if the child is not in the custody of the parent who attempted suicide?
Even though the child was not technically affected by the suicide attempt, the Court will still see the attempt as an outward sign of a severe mental health crisis. While it can be argued that the parent had enough care for the child to make sure the attempt occurred while the child was not present, overall, the Court will likely err on the side of caution. The Court will issue new orders for the safety of the child.
What do I do if I discover my co-parent has attempted suicide recently?
Seek the advice of an experienced family lawyer. Depending on the facts, you may need to take immediate legal action to make sure your child is safe.
If My co-parent tries to commit suicide, does that mean I will get full custody?
Not necessarily. Many factors figure into the Court’s decision. First is the child’s best interest, but other factors like the age of the child, the circumstances around the attempt, the relationship between the parents, medical and psychological treatment of the suffering parent, and much more figure into the Court’s decision about custody in the short term and long-term.