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Does Mental Health Impact Child Custody Determinations in Indiana?

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2021 | Family Law

In Indiana child custody cases, the court determines legal custody based on several factors, including the mental and physical health of both parents. Mental health issues can impact child custody, visitation, and parental rights.

Indiana Child Custody

Every year, thousands of couples terminate their marriages with divorce. While some divorces are agreeable, others may become hostile with disputes over property and assets, finances, alimony, and child custody.

When children become part of a divorce, child custody issues are a priority for both parents, especially when both parents are seeking primary custody. Although both parents’ family law attorneys will gather necessary information and documents to support a custody decision, the final decision on child custody lies with the court. The court may rule that parents can share joint legal custody, or that one parent will be appointed sole legal custody and the other parent will be granted parenting time.

In Indiana child custody cases, courts determine child custody based on the best interest of the child considering the child’s safety, as well as the child’s physical and emotional needs. Indiana courts look at various factors that may impact the child’s well-being:

  • Parents’ ability to accommodate the child’s needs
  • Parents’ physical and mental health
  • Parents’ relationships with the child
  • Parental and family conflicts
  • History of parental child abuse and/or child neglect
  • History of domestic violence against a child, spouse, or family member

The Impact of Mental Illness

The mental and physical health of both parents is a major factor when determining child custody. Although millions of people have some type of mental illness diagnosis, Indiana courts realize that mental illness can affect people in different ways. While some parents may be able to effectively treat their mental illness and practice appropriate parenting skills, others may experience less effective treatments that leave them prone to child neglect, child abuse, and domestic violence.

Indiana courts look at the mental health of each parent when determining child custody. This is especially important when parents are experiencing heated conflicts and disputes regarding child custody. In some child custody conflicts, one parent may allege the mental illness of the other parent to sway the court’s decision for sole legal custody. If this occurs, a family law attorney can provide information and documented medical records to the court to prove or disprove the allegations.

Based on allegations and information provided, the court hearing the dispute will decide whether or not to admit mental health records as part of the court proceedings. In Indiana courts, the judge must weigh the best interest of the child against protecting the relationship between the mental health provider and the patient under laws that protect doctor/patient privacy privileges.

The Indiana Supreme Court notes that the purpose of doctor/patient privacy privileges is to protect confidential information shared between both parties. The psychologist-patient privilege states that “a psychologist may not disclose any information acquired from a patient that he/she is treating in a professional capacity.” However, Indiana courts have exceptions to psychologist/patient privilege that allow mental health records to be admissible in Indiana child custody cases.

Generally, Indiana courts are likely to determine that mental health records are discoverable and admissible in child custody hearings. An Indiana family law attorney can answer questions, provide legal information, and offer guidance on the admissibility of mental health records and psychologist-patient privilege.

How Mental Health Issues Impact Custody

When one parent has mental health issues that interfere in some way with appropriate parenting skills, the court will likely assign sole legal custody to the other parent. The judge may also place conditions of visitation on the parent with mental illness to protect the well-being of the child. Depending on the diagnosis and the severity of mental illness, the judge may order:

  • Supervised visitation by the other parent or a family member
  • Supervised visitation by a child therapist or a family counselor
  • Supervised visitation by a Child Protective Service worker
  • Prohibited overnight visitation
  • Suspended visitation during mental health treatments
  • Suspended visitation altogether

Indiana courts may also order mentally ill parents to participate in regular sessions with a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist and to comply with all recommended treatments and medications. In cases of extreme mental illness or signs of related abuse, neglect, or violence, Indiana courts have the power to terminate the parental rights of the mentally ill parent. If the court has reason to believe that the parent’s mental illness is likely to threaten a child’s well-being, and a psychiatrist testifies that the illness is expected to continue indefinitely, the judge can permanently sever all of that parent’s custodial rights.

In Indiana child custody cases that involve the mental illness of a parent, a family law attorney can provide important legal information and guidance based on laws and determining factors that impact child custody.