Can a child live with a parent who suffers from mental illness?

On Behalf of | Feb 14, 2024 | Family Law |

When a couple is splitting up and they have minor children, child custody is one of the most important and sensitive matters in the case.

Child custody is important because it determines where the child lives, who cares for the child, who makes important decisions and who spends the most time with the child.

Mental health concerns

In many cases, parents fight over child custody in court. In other cases, they are able to work things out on their own. In either case, however, they must make decisions about many things, including child custody, or the court will decide for them.

If someone brings up concerns about one of the parent’s mental health, assuming it is factual, the parent who suffers from the mental health condition may feel afraid and scared that the court will take their child away from them.

The court’s role in determining custody

Rest assured that the courts are not out to take kids away from their parents. In fact, the role of the courts as it relates to child custody is to ensure children are safe, healthy and happy.

To that end, the law has a series of factors called “the best interests of the child” for courts to use when evaluating what is in the best interests of children in divorce cases.

The court understands that the statistics surrounding mental health in our country are quite staggering. In the United States, one in five adults lives with a mental health condition.

Chances are, you know someone who lives with a mental health condition or you have one yourself. Either way, science has shown that many mental health conditions can be treated and in many cases, a parent having one does not affect a child at all.

But what if it does?

The court must evaluate any concerns raised about a parent’s mental health because they involve the best interests of the child.

If a parent lives with a mental health condition, the court may ask to see medical records, professional opinions from the parent’s physician, or an independent psychological evaluation.

In these cases, the court is not trying to prove that the parent is unfit, but rather evaluating the circumstances to ensure that the child is safe. Thus, the focus is not against the parent but on the safety of the child. This is an important distinction that parents should understand.

What the court wants to see

If a parent has a mental health illness, the court wants to ensure:

  • The parent is under treatment
  • The treatment is working effectively
  • The parent adheres to the treatment
  • The child is not negatively affected by the condition
  • The parent can care and provide for the child

Considering these factors and others, the court will make a determination about whether this is an issue at all. In some cases, even if the parent has a mental health condition, it will not be a consideration if it does not impact the child in a negative way.


Mental health conditions are more common than ever these days. Courts know that and at the same time, divorcing parents may be concerned about how this may affect the court’s view of them and their opinion of them as parents.

While judges typically look into all of these concerns, the court is looking at the big picture to ensure that the parents are meeting their child’s needs and providing them with a safe, happy and healthy environment in compliance with the law.