CUSTODY EVALUATION AND MENTAL ILLNESS
The presence of mental illness creates unique demands during the evaluation process. One of the biggest myths I hear is that having a mental illness means that you cannot parent.
1) During a custody evaluation there's a big difference between being a parent with a mental illness which is stable verses unstable brought up during a custody evaluation. Stability depends on factors such as being engaged in mental health treatment and following the directives of that mental health professional.
2) Parental fitness may not be related to mental illness. For example, a mentally ill parent may have an anxiety disorder and still be a capable parent.
Like most things in life, being a fit parent depends on many unique factors in each family.
For example, if a parent is depressed and locks him/herself in the house for days at a time, that could certainly indicate a concern regarding parental fitness and custody issues. Every person is unique! Similarly, just because a parent has a history of mental illness does not mean they can't be a good and capable parent.
ALLEGATIONS OF BEING AN UNFIT PARENT
The Core Custody Evaluation and Mental Illness Threat
I know that in many custody evaluations one parent can try to paint the other as being "sick" or "mentally ill" and try to convince the court that the other parent is unfit to be a parent, and that the other parent should not get custody or only supervised visits.
This is an allegation, if false, which can be disproven.
First, if you are involved in a custody evaluation with a false allegation of mental illness, the evaluator should be able to identify who does or does not have a mental illness (if there is any parent with a mental illness). If you feel that this is unfair, you can request a "second opinion" and get an evaluation from another forensic psychologist. The second opinion by a forensic psychologist will need to be neutral and objective. You should be honest with that second psychologist with regard to a) the reason for your request for an additional evaluation, and b) the custody matters that you are involved in. It is usually beneficial if this 'second opinion' is agreed upon by all the lawyers involved in the matter. The findings from this evaluation can be used for resolution of the issue in or out of court.
If you are already in treatment, you can have a letter from your psychiatrist or therapist drafted identifying the reason you are in treatment, the nature of your mental illness or condition, and their opinion about your overall stability and functioning.
This person can also be called to testify as a Fact Witness to testify on your behalf, if needed, at a court hearing or trial. It must be noted that these professionals can be perceived to hold less credibility, because it can be perceived they are "on your side" and "not neutral"-as is the expert conducting the custody evaluation. As a result, their mental illness findings can be discounted slightly compared to another neutral evaluation. This is why some parents who are dealing with a custody evaluation and mental illness issue choose to have a second evaluation; this ensures that the findings will be compiled thoroughly and efficiently by an expert.