Men­tal ill­ness in par­ent­ing matters

Each year at least 1 in 5 Aus­tralians over the age of 16 expe­ri­ence men­tal ill­ness. The most com­mon men­tal ill­ness­es are depres­sion and anx­i­ety and oth­er forms include bipo­lar dis­or­der and schizophrenia.

It is com­mon for peo­ple to expe­ri­ence men­tal ill­ness dur­ing dif­fi­cult times in their lives such as sep­a­ra­tion and divorce.

In par­ent­ing mat­ters before the Fam­i­ly Court the pri­ma­ry con­sid­er­a­tion is the best inter­ests of the chil­dren and pro­tect­ing them from harm, includ­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tion­al harm. Any dis­tress or anx­i­ety expe­ri­enced by chil­dren as a result of a par­en­t’s health issues are rel­e­vant con­sid­er­a­tions for the Court.

In cir­cum­stances where the men­tal health of a par­ent is being man­aged and their con­di­tion does not impact adverse­ly on the chil­dren then there is no rea­son why the chil­dren should not spend time or live with that parent.

If the chil­dren are like­ly to be affect­ed by a par­en­t’s men­tal health issues then the time between that par­ent and the chil­dren is like­ly to be reduced or stopped. Usu­al­ly grad­u­al­ly increas­ing time with the chil­dren as the par­en­t’s health improves and the chil­dren become more set­tled, may be in the best inter­ests of the chil­dren. Where the par­en­t’s men­tal health is such that there is a risk to the chil­dren, then pro­tect­ing the chil­dren from any risk will be the Court’s pri­or­i­ty and that they may mean that con­tact with the chil­dren needs to be super­vised or stopped.