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Your mental illness does not preclude you from having custody

There's a saying that it's not paranoia if people really are out to get you. Those living with mental illness may understand that well if their exes or others are seeking to deny them custody of their kids due to their diagnoses.

Of course, every situation is different and nuanced. An actively schizophrenic parent who is off of their meds can indeed be a danger to their children. But someone who struggles with anxiety and depression who is in treatment and compliant with their medication schedule likely is not.

Facing your fears and realities

Anyone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness who finds themselves in an acrimonious contested custody battle should prepare themselves for their diagnosis to become an issue. It's a good idea to inform your doctor and/or therapist of the situation as early as possible so that they can become an ally for you in your fight.

This is also the time to double-down on self-care. You need to be as emotionally, mentally and physically strong as possible right now. The breakdown of a marriage or significant relationship is demoralizing for even the most emotionally and mentally hardy individuals. For a person suffering with mental illness, it can be the catalyst for a crisis.

Practicing good self-care now can avert that possibility and allow you to continue the legal fight for custody of your children.

Be proactive and realistic

Sometimes, your mental health might indeed impact your ability to safely parent your children. You need to confront that reality head-on and devise a plan that will allow you to remain in control of the situation. For instance, suppose the holidays always leave you feeling blue. You can't be the best mom or dad to your child if all you do is stay in bed with the covers pulled over your head.

You and your mental health professional can devise a plan of action that will allow you to address your feelings in a way that will not prevent you from effectively parenting your children.

What do the courts say?

No court will arbitrarily deny or restrict custody from a parent who has a mental illness diagnosis. They can and will, however, do so if that parent's condition adversely affects their children or puts them at risk.

You should be able to prove all the ways that your condition is managed effectively — therapeutically, pharmaceutically and with behavior management strategies. Your therapist or doctor may be called as a witness to offer testimony as to your stability and ability to parent (or lack thereof). Focus on remaining calm and goal-oriented and not going off on an emotional tangent or attacking your ex. That will not serve you well in these circumstances.

Work closely together with your San Jose family law attorney to devise a workable strategy that allows you to maintain or regain custody of your kids.

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