Most of us can agree that while divorce is hard, co-parenting is often even harder. As a Collaborative family law attorney and certified mediator who has personal and professional experience with divorce and co-parenting, I’ll be the first to admit that this is true. These processes can become even more challenging and complex when there are mental health concerns with either, or both, spouses and/or their children.
I’ve written about mental health wellness and also concerns in several recent ROAD to RESOLUTION blogs, including one with suggestions as you embark on divorce for yourself and another one about children who experience the divorce of their parents.
While these are important topics that should be addressed during a divorce journey, I want to discuss another one that deserves the utmost thoughtfulness and understanding. Divorcing or separating from a spouse with mental illness and subsequently co-parenting with them is a reality for many people. While the mental health of a partner can certainly play a role in divorce, there needs to be additional care and consideration when children are involved. The fact of the matter is that even once your marriage ends, you’ll still need to work together as you raise your children.
In these situations, there are many things to keep in mind to ensure a healthy relationship and outcome for your children. With wide-ranging experience and professional training on this topic as a certified co-parenting coach, here are my top tips for navigating your co-parenting journey with a parenting partner who suffers from mental illness:
Get Counseling from a Mental Health Professional
When it comes to co-parenting with someone who has diagnosed mental illness or other mental health concerns, bring in a professional. Trust me, this is not something you want to tackle on your own. Having the insight and recommendations of a professional in the mental health field is an invaluable resource. They can provide you with advice for navigating an on-going parenting relationship and help you evaluate the situation from various aspects.
Assess How It Affects Your Children
Evaluate the relationship your parenting partner has with your children and assess how, if at all, it affects them. This assessment should be focused on how the other parent’s mental illness impacts your children – not how it is affecting you. Even if there is conflict or animosity between you and your parenting partner, reflect only on their relationship with your children.
Determine the Potential Impact
If your parenting partner’s condition is negatively affecting your children, you will need to address this through your parenting agreement or custody arrangement. It’s important to remember that there are different types of mental illness and varying levels of severity. Addressing a situation with a co-parent who has a well-controlled condition might be different than handling an issue with a co-parent who isn’t managing their illness or is unpredictable. If there is ever a situation where you believe your children are actively in danger, report it immediately to law enforcement.
Weigh Your Options
When addressing custody concerns, it’s important to weigh your options and consider what is best for your children in the long-term. I know that this process can be super challenging. It is often one of the toughest calls you can make as a co-parent. While your parenting partner’s mental illness may affect your children in some slight ways, you need to weigh this against the effect of a custody dispute on your children. In some cases, exposing your children to a contentious custody battle through the court system is often more detrimental than the minor ways they are being affected by your co-parent’s behavior. Or, in a different situation where your children are impacted more seriously, perhaps it would be worth exposing your children to a custody dispute to save them from emotional harm. Ultimately, the safety and physical and mental wellbeing of your children should come first.
Work with a Co-Parenting Expert
To help assess these types of situations, determine impacts, and weigh options, I recommend working with a co-parenting expert. I am proud to be a co-parenting coach who is certified through the Mosten Guthrie Academy for Mediation and Collaborative Training. Through this designation, I received focused co-parenting training on how to address a parent who has mental illness, mental health concern, or addiction. Through this extensive training paired with my personal and professional experience, I can help co-parents navigate these difficult and complex circumstances. I can also advise on custody arrangements and if and when to involve other professionals.
We’re Here to Help
The ROAD to RESOLUTION legal team can assist you every step of the way during your co-parenting journey and on your road to resolution. Please give us a call at (980) 260-1600 and we can discuss your legal opportunities through out-of-court process options. Our Charlotte-based team is here to help you and your family.
The ROAD to RESOLUTION Divorce Blog can help you differentiate the fact from the fiction, and guide you towards the support you need during this difficult time. Use our resources and services to find all the info you need—from pre-divorce education to drafting essential legal documents. Please contact us to learn more about how we can help you.
Note: This feature is intended to be informational only and shall not be construed as legal advice.