In a divorce custody battle, parents may seek any possible advantage over each other. In an effort to get the custody outcome they want, a parent may look to take advantage of any perceived weakness or unfitness of the other parent. Florida courts determine parental responsibility and time-sharing matters by evaluating a series of factors that affect the “best interests of the child.” One of these is “the mental and physical health of the parents.” If you have a health issue, could your child’s other parent use it against you?
Many of our clients ask this question. They are relieved to learn that simply having a physical or mental illness, by itself, is not enough to deny a parent time-sharing or parental responsibility. That said, a parent’s health issues are relevant to a custody determination. The issue is the connection between the health issue and whether it impairs the parent’s ability to properly care for their child.
HOW A PARENT’S HEALTH ISSUES AFFECTS THEIR PARENTING
As with other aspects of parenting, a parent doesn’t have to be problem-free for a court to weigh this particular factor in their favor. It is important to consider how a parent is managing their health conditions, and how they address those conditions to a child in a developmentally-appropriate way. Is the parent taking necessary medications to manage their illness? If therapy (physical or otherwise) is recommended for the parent, are they complying?
Does the condition affect the parent’s ability to physically care for the child? (For instance, it would be difficult for a quadriplegic parent to care for an active toddler.) Does the parent have a mental health diagnosis that is not under control and affects their ability to be emotionally present for the child? (For example, a parent with untreated schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who can’t attend to their child’s needs).
PROVING THAT A PARENT’S MEDICAL ISSUE AFFECTS THEIR CHILD
Again, it’s not enough to state that a parent has a medical issue. It’s not even enough to state that a parent has a health condition that affects their parenting. Whether you are trying to prove that your co-parent has a health issue that affects their parenting, or that your own health issue does not have a negative impact on your child, more is needed.
Remember that the court deciding your case does not have the benefit of knowing what you know. They have not lived with you and your spouse and witnessed all the ways a health issue has (or has not) affected the family. The court can consider only the evidence that is properly placed before it. That is where your attorney’s assistance is essential. Your attorney will help you identify the information that the court needs; gather the evidence needed to support your position and get it entered into evidence; and, crucially, draw the connecting line between that evidence and the conclusion you want the court to reach.
Evidence you may present might include:
- Medical records
- Witness testimony, including expert witnesses
- Recent evaluations, whether court-ordered or initiated by a parent
Witness testimony might center around observations of how a parent’s health issue has affected a child in the past. Expert testimony might relate to the nature of the parent’s condition and how it would be likely to affect their ability to care for a child. Medical records can be a treasure trove of information, especially with regard to how compliant a parent has been with treatment in the past.
An experienced Florida child custody attorney will know how to sift through the available evidence and use it to create a picture that will offer strong support for your case. If you are the parent with the health issue and the other parent is trying to use it to limit your time-sharing or parental responsibility, you will need your attorney’s help to bolster your position and show that your medical condition does not negatively affect your ability to care for your child.
Even if you have a health issue that makes it difficult for you to physically care for a child, it is important to maintain your relationship with your child, and your attorney can help you get a time-sharing arrangement that will preserve those bonds. If you have concerns about how a health issue may affect your Florida custody case, please contact Florida family lawyer Antonio Jimenez to schedule a consultation.