Carr-MacArthur v. Carr – On Mental Health and Child Custody

Mental illness does not carry the same stigma it did even just a few decades ago. This has brought many conditions to light that may have otherwise been hidden, and allowed for better treatment plans with greater family support.
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However, in the course of dissolving a marriage or within a child custody dispute, the mental health of one parent or both is sometimes called into question. Often, one side will press for the introduction of evidence such as medical records or the testimony of one’s psychotherapist in order to undercut that person’s fitness as a parent or to gain some other advantage in the case.

It’s important to understand confidential information and communication is protected by mental health professionals, but only to an extent. Particularly in child custody proceedings, the court will find it relative to determine whether one parent is “unstable” or “depressed.” If the information may directly relate to the well-being of a child or the parent’s ability to adequately care for the child, the court is likely to admit the information.

Our Hammond child custody attorneys know this is an issue that has to be handled carefully. On the one hand, we don’t want a parent who needs treatment avoiding help because they fear those records being used against them. On the other hand, we strive to protect the child’s best interests.

According to Mental Health America, only one-third of children with a parent suffering a serious mental illness are being raised by that parent. Still, mental illness alone is not sufficient enough to establish the parent is unfit. Courts will take into consideration side effects of medications, failure to take medications and/or failure to adhere to recommended treatment plans.

Mental illness of a mother was recently the prime subject in the case of Carr-MacArthur v. Carr, before the Georgia Supreme Court.

According to court records, parents were married in 2004, had one child together the following year and divorced four years after that. At the time of the divorce, mother had some physical and mental health issues. Father, who was serving in the U.S. Air Force, was aware of this, but believed them to be manageable.

A family court awarded joint legal custody to both parties, but primary physical custody to mother. She moved to Florida with child, and father remained in Georgia, where he was based.

However, the following year, mother surrendered custody of child to father after the state child services agency found the home in unclean, unsafe condition. there was moldy food and trash on the floor, empty prescription bottles throughout the home and cat food on the floor and kitchen table.

Later, mother sought to regain custody and father filed motion for modification. Mother countered father knew of her mental health issues at the time of their initial agreement, and those issues were the same as before, and thus, there was no material change in condition to warrant modification.

The court granted his modification, and mother appealed, arguing the evidence insufficient.

The state supreme court found that while there as evidence at the time of the initial agreement that mother suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and severe pain from rheumatoid arthritis, evidence also suggested she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and adjustment disorder, which father was not aware. Further, while her conditions were deemed manageable at the time of the first parenting time agreement, the court found they were no longer manageable, as evidenced by findings of child services.

Therefore, there was a material change in condition warranting action.

In her appeal, mother argued her condition had improved and it was likely father would be deployed for long periods of time.

The state supreme court affirmed, though it did reverse regarding an aspect of child support.

These cases are best handled by an experienced family law attorney.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
Carr-MacArthur v. Carr, Oct. 20, 2014, Georgia Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Bogner v. Bogner – Indiana Appeals Court Weighs Child Support Change, Oct. 20, 2014, Hammond Family Law Attorney Blog