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The rise of mental health and how this can affect parenting and family life

The rise of mental health and how this can affect parenting and family life

The rise of mental health and how this can affect parenting and family life

As family lawyers we often find ourselves advising that suffering from some mental health issues or depression does not make you a bad parent. Indeed, the stress of divorce can quite often lead to a temporary bout of depression or ill health. Invariably however, allegations of poor parenting within divorce or an acrimonious separation have been prevalent for many years, one parent alleging that the other is not a fit parent and that they intend to seek control of their children as part of their separation. They may of course be referring to a minor illness many years ago. More often than not, that parent is a perfectly good parent, and the threat is made in the heat of the moment and without proper thought to the reality of the situation.  Having mental health issues does not of itself suggest you are a bad parent.

As we all know from the media, mental health is on the rise and as family lawyers we see that this is indeed true. However, there are cases where mental health issues can cause serious issues and lead to a situation which perhaps was never envisaged by either parent. What if there was no intention to separate but the mental illness is adversely affecting the children?  This can mean that a parent is placed in a situation where they effectively have to choose between their children and their relationship.

If your children are at risk of harm from that mental health (perhaps pending treatment taking effect), who is your priority – your spouse/partner or your children?  That is a very difficult decision but one which sometimes people find themselves having to make.

Mental health can often bring with it a loss of appreciation of the chaos your illness may be causing, as well as an unwillingness to accept the adverse effects your illness and your behaviour may have on your children.

Some examples include suicide attempts and totally irrational behaviour for example theft, assault and many other sometimes criminal offences. All of these symptoms may be perfectly normal in light of your illness but for your children, they can have a serious effect upon them in later life. This is where the burden of protection falls upon the other parent.

In serious cases, sometimes the local authority will become involved and threaten to issue care proceedings if the parent refuses to take certain steps to protect their own children.  Clearly that parent is not going to take that risk and finds themselves having to bring a court application which he or she never wanted to bring.  The consequences of such an action can be far reaching and it is often the case that the relationship cannot survive what it has been through.

There is no easy way to avoid this. Children are, as we know, impacted by all manner of things and may well need to be extracted from the situation. That would require a court action perhaps excluding one parent from the home so that the other parent can continue to live there with the children and provide a stable home for them.  It might also require a prohibited steps order to ensure that one parent cannot remove the children from the other’s care. Whether or not your partner has mental health issues – they still have parental responsibility and as such you cannot just stop them from taking their children – i.e., collecting them from school. Ultimately therefore, an order preventing this may be required to allow third parties to intervene and prevent a breach of that order, for the children’s protection.

Often the parent with the ill heath will not want the partner to access medical information.   The other parent is then left not really having any clear indication of exactly what risk is posed to the children.   The relationship between what is right in terms of securing the children’s safety and the patient’s right to confidentiality can be a difficult one, and there is sometimes no way to get around this other than a court application.   What is required is an expert opinion and that can often only be obtained via a court order.  It may of course be that after a period of irrational behaviour there is a need for certainty, or at least as much certainty as possible, and that can often only be provided by such a medical report.

What starts out as seeking to protect your children but not necessarily end your relationship with the other parent, can quickly escalate into something completely different. It can become acrimonious.  The parent who has been ill becomes resentful when they are on the mend and reacting to well to medication and medical input. Not understanding why their partner took such draconian action.   The parent who was left to deal with the need to protect the children is left not really knowing whether or not the illness is likely to reoccur and put the children at risk again; what are the triggers for this happening again, how often might it happen?

Quite understandably what started out as action to protect the children suddenly becomes action which has led to a complete breakdown in the relationship, even though this is not what was anticipated at the outset.

The emotional turmoil for people dealing with the effects of mental health issues is significant and it cannot be underestimated how difficult these situations are.

Speak to our Family Law experts

Our caring, sensitive family team here at IBB Law can help you through that turmoil.

Should you wish to speak to someone regarding the above, or in relation to any other family law matter, please contact a member of the family team on 03456 381 381 or email us at enquiries@ibblaw.co.uk.