Bipolar disorder, like many other medical problems, can be managed with professional treatment, including medications. Having bipolar disorder does not automatically mean that you will lose custody of your children in a divorce. Here's what you should know:
The Court Will Use The "Best Interests" Standards
When making decisions about child custody, the court's primary concern is the best interests of the child, not the parents. The court looks at numerous factors, including the mental and physical health of each parent and the ability of each parent to provide a stable home environment. Those are usually the two primary factors that are contested by the non-bipolar spouse when there's a custody dispute.
Bipolar disorder can cause extreme mood swings, evident through the manic and depressive stages of the illness. While manic, someone with bipolar disorder may act recklessly or impulsively. They might overspend, stop sleeping, and generally behave erratically. While depressed, they may be unable to keep up with the ordinary demands of a home and child, such as getting the child ready for school or making sure that groceries are bought and meals are cooked.
Should you expect your spouse to use your diagnosis against you in a custody battle? Probably. Realistically, if you're already in a battle over custody, you can expect your spouse to use anything he or she can challenge your fitness as a parent.
You Have Several Methods Of Defense
Keep in mind that people with psychological and physical challenges can still win sole or joint custody of their children. It isn't so much an issue of whether or not you're bipolar but how the disorder affects your ability to be an effective parent.
In order to establish that your disorder is under control, be prepared to show the court a number of things:
- proof that you receive regular checkups and treatments for the disorder
- evidence that you get your refills on your medication as expected (which indicates you take your medication as prescribed)
- a statement from your physician regarding the stability of your condition
Part Of The Burden Is On Your Spouse
Keep in mind that not all of the burden of proof lies on you. Your spouse is going to be asked to show the court why he or she thinks that your condition makes you an unfit parent. He or she may be asked to provide evidence as well:
- proof that you've had a recent hospitalization due to the disorder
- evidence of reckless behavior, such as police reports or bank account statements that indicate that you acted without thinking of the consequences
- proof that your disorder has caused you to be violent with your children or neglect them in some way, through social service reports, doctor's reports, or school records
If something happened in the past that caused you to have a manic or depressive episode, discuss the issue with your attorney in advance so that you can prepare your response to the court. The court will examine your response to the situation as much as it does the actual events.
For example, if a medication you were trying shifted you into a bout of depression but you took action and checked yourself into a hospital for treatment or saw your doctor and had your medication adjusted, that shows a pattern of responsibility and an ability to cope with your disorder. If your doctor has since changed your medication and you've leveled out, there's no reason to presume that the event will repeat itself.
The important thing to keep in mind is that you need to be proactive when addressing your illness with the court. Make sure that your attorney knows in advance that you suspect your spouse will bring it up as an issue and begin to plan accordingly.
For more information, contact Andrew H P Norton or a similar legal professional.