Understanding How The Mental And Physical Challenges Of A Parent Can Impact Child Custody

The mental and physical health of the person seeking custody is a factor the courts will consider in determining whether the parent is capable of fulfilling their parental duties and obligations for the child.  In a recent Bucks County court case, a mother petitioned the court to modify a custody agreement. The basic facts of the case were:

  • Father had primary custody.  Mother had partial custody every other weekend and would assume primary custody during the summer months when the child was out of school.
  • Mother had issues with ADD/ADHD and a co-occurring personality disorder which significantly impacted her ability to provide for her daughter.  Mother had undergone multiple psychological evaluations.
  • When with mother, daughter was late or absent to/from school which impacted her academically and socially.
  • In her appeal, Mother cited that her mental health had improved to the point where she could provide better care and the daughter stated that she wanted to live with Mother.
  • The Superior Court ruled, based on psychological evaluations of Mother, that she had not improved enough to warrant a change in the original agreement and the child was better cared for when she was with Father. 

R.J. v. R.J., 92 Bucks Co. L. Rep. 501 (2019)

The court can use expert testimony from psychological evaluators to determine whether the parent is psychologically stable enough to provide for their child.  This can be particularly challenging for a parent seeking custody who might suffer from a mental health condition despite the fact he or she shares an emotional bond with her child.  In this particular case, the court did note that the mother certainly cared about her daughter’s well-being. Despite the child’s stated preference that she would like to live with the mother primarily, the court did not find that was a compelling enough reason to rule in favor of the mother.  The court reasoned that the daughter, at 14 years old, was not emotionally mature enough to understand why it would be better for her to remain with her father during the school week. The court typically does look at the relationship that the child has with the parent in awarding custody, but in this decision, the court found that the child’s reasons for wanting to spend more time with mother was essentially irrational.  Physical disabilities have been handled similarly by the Court. The Superior Court recently ruled against a father seeking primary custody due to a serious heart condition that left him disabled. See M.S.C. v. L.M.D, 2016 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 3385. 

Given the complex nature of certain custody cases, it’s important to have an experienced attorney help guide you through the process.   Please contact the The THOMAS SMITH Firm, P.C. at info@thomassmithfirm.com.