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Mental impairments, family violence and how these problems affect child custody cases

In family law cases that involve mental health issues families but not only deal with the hardships that a case presents them with, but also must handle the problems associated with the particular circumstances of their family. In yesterday's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we discussed the subject of mental illness and how it can affect you and your case. We will begin today's blog post by showing you how the judge in your case may approach this issue as it relates to your child's best interests.

How will a judge manage your case if you suffer from a mental health impairment?

Mental illnesses are among the more difficult circumstances that could arise in your case for a judge to manage. For one thing, no two conditions are alike and no two people are alike who have to deal with these sort of hardships. A judge cannot simply apply their rulings from a prior case to your particular circumstances. You are your own person and what is in your child’s best interests is not something your judge could ascertain from how he handled a prior case.

As such, the judge will need to get a good idea about what your mental illness is, how severe it is and whether or not it affects your ability to raise a child and earn a living for yourself. Many mental illnesses can be kept in check with the help of medication and therapy. There is a chance that will proper attention the mental illness could be completely eliminated or at least have its symptoms reduced to being not much more than minimally impactful on your life. Still, other mental illnesses can have a severe impact on your life and your daily habits such that independent living, not to mention raising a child, is a near impossibility.

Do not be surprised if the judge in your case appoints a study to be done of you and your home environment in order to determine the impact of your mental illness on your daily life. This is in the best interests of your child because it would not be wise to place your child with you, even on a part-time basis, if you were not able to care for him or her. If you are not taking your medication in the correct dosage or in sufficient enough numbers that would be a strong reason for limiting your role in your child’s life.

How mature is your child and how well can they handle the difficulties associated with your condition?

Based on the age and maturity of your child he or she may not be able to handle the day to day changes in your persona that a mental health impairment has caused you to suffer from. An ad litem or amicus attorney may be appointed to your case in order to allow the judge to better understand just how well your child is reacting to your involvement in this case and how well he functions in spite of any problems there are related to your mental health.

For instance, do you make an effort to talk to your child about your mental illness? Obviously, a great deal of this depends upon the age of your child but if your child is old enough to understand these issues you should be sharing some information at least to the extent necessary to help him understand why you act differently some days compared to others. Likewise, your spouse should also be working with your child to help him understand these issues as well in an age-appropriate manner. If you and your opposing party can meet these goals then the judge would likely be happy with both of you.

Domestic violence in the home and its effect on a family law case

When there is ongoing domestic violence in a home, any child living there is at an enhanced risk of suffering harm himself. If there was abuse going on in the home prior to a family law case being filed then that violence may have escalated as a result of the increased stakes and pressure that exist in your family now as a result of the case.

The emotional and physical safety of your child and the parent who has been the victim of the domestic violence is of the utmost importance, then. The judge in your case will be making decisions based on what is in the best interests of your child. As such, if the judge feels that you put your child at risk of physical harm due to your actions then you can bet that you will be unsuccessful in attempting to win more rights/duties as to your child.

If violence occurs during the pendency of your family lawsuit then the victim-parent and child will need to be cared for. Expect your judge to go to great lengths to ensure that you have a place to stay and necessary supplies to care for your child. There will also be punishments levied against the violent spouse including the payment of doctor’s bills and spousal support.

Once a judge makes a determination about your child’s safety what happens next?

If your judge does an assessment of your case and determines that the concerns regarding domestic violence are minimal he would then move on to whether or not there are likely going to be any after-effects of the violence on you, your child or your family. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression are just a few of the after-effects of domestic violence that could exist within your family. In this way, you can see that mental illnesses and family violence are two problems that are related to one another.

If it is your spouse who has been the abusive parent then you can expect your judge to reach out to social study evaluators to speak to whether or not it is likely that this parent can be rehabilitated sufficiently to have a relationship with your child.

What the judge may do in your case to deal with a person who has a history of family violence

Family violence is an extremely serious topic and is one that can have far-reaching effects on a family. As such the judge in your case will want to take proactive measures to ensure the safety of all persons involved in your case.

For starters, supervised visitation between the abusive parent and your child will be mandated unless an alternative is achievable. Supervised visitation can occur at a supervised visitation facility (cost paid by the spouse whose periods of visitation are being supervised). Supervised visitation can occur outside of supervision centers but a third party supervisor must be chosen and agreed to by both sides.

It is not uncommon for a judge to request testimony from you and from your spouse as to the dates that family violence has occurred, what happened, etc. If it appears that one of you is being untruthful about the occurrence of the family violence that will affect the amount of visitation time you receive. Whether or not the violence in the home is ongoing is an important factor for the judge to consider when determining a custody and visitation schedule for your family.

Substance abuse issues and their potential impact on your divorce case

If you or your spouse are engaging in the use of alcohol or drugs to a degree that it is impacting your relationship with your child and/or your ability to care for your child then this will assuredly be an issue in your family law case. The fact is that if you are impaired, mentally speaking, due to your ingestion of drugs or alcohol you are putting yourself and your child at risk of harm. The main reason for this is that you would not be able to respond as quickly to dangerous conditions inside and outside of your home.

For example, if you have fallen asleep while taking care of your child due to your having drunk too much alcohol then this would likely be offered as an example of why your children should not be placed primarily in your home. In the past, I have had a client who swore to me that he never smoked marijuana in front of his kids and therefore never put his kids at risk of suffering harm.

What this client failed to mention was that because his senses were dulled due to his ingestion of marijuana he would not be ready to respond to dangerous conditions arising. Imagine leaving the stove on all day while you were caring for your child because you were not able to think straight. While your child may have never seen you use illegal drugs in your home, an oven that catches fire due to your negligence certainly would be impactful as far as your children are concerned.

Acknowledgment of your addiction and admittance into a substance abuse program is key in the eyes of a judge. A lot of people in our country have substance abuse issues. A lot of those people have legitimate reasons as to why he turned to substance abuse or are more prone to that sort of behavior. A judge would be interested in seeing what actions you have taken to ensure that your behavior does not have an overly detrimental effect on your child.

Chronic illnesses and physical disabilities

In the event that you suffer from a chronic illness or other disability, it is probable that your family has been dealing with the effects of this condition a lot longer than the life of your family law case. The judge in your case will need to balance the ability of your family to process and grieve through these issues and the need to assure that the well-being of your children.

If, for instance, your energy levels are not consistent due to your receiving treatment for your chronic illness then you may not be in a position where you can supervise or parent your child at all times of the day. You may require assistance on various days of the week (such as those days when you receive chemotherapy of you have cancer) or other accommodations. In situations like this, your support system would be essential to your being able to care for your children.

Since you and the judge in your case do not know exactly how you will respond to the need to care for yourself on an ongoing basis, the things that are known is what will be focused on by the judge in your case. A judge cannot simply imagine a particular future and then base your child's immediate future on those hypothetical plans. If you are working to get through a difficult time period in your life it is likely that the judge will not want to weigh you down with the daily responsibility of caring for your children. While your chronic illness will not be seen as a reason to deny you the ability to parent your child it will be a factor when determining what custody situation is in the best interests of your child.

Parenting with an ex-spouse will be our topic in tomorrow’s blog post

Tomorrow we will begin discussing an important topic- how to co-parent with an ex-spouse. While it is easier said than done when it comes to working with your ex-spouse on raising your child it is still very important in the eyes of a judge. Putting your personal differences aside to make decisions that are in the best interests of your child can show maturity and can cause a judge to view you in a favorable light.

If you have any questions about the material that we covered in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with one of our licensed family law attorneys. You can ask questions and have your questions addressed in these comfortable, pressure-free meetings.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Custody Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child custody, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Child CustodyLawyersright away to protect your rights.

Our child custodylawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child custodycases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, KingwoodTomballThe Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris CountyMontgomery CountyLiberty County, Chambers CountyGalveston CountyBrazoria CountyFort Bend County and Waller County.

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