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If you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, this can impact both child welfare/parenting arrangements addition to property disputes. However, a mental health condition does affect or have relevance to divorce proceedings (family law proceedings) (provided there are no children in the relationship).
The first and foremost principle applied by the Court in any parenting proceeding is placing the welfare of the child as the ‘paramount’ consideration’. Whilst this does not mean the Court disregards other considerations, the best interests of the child will always take precedence when it comes to mental health in parenting disputes.
Importantly, where one or more party to the family law proceedings has been diagnosed with a mental health condition, there is no legal presumption that the person is not capable of being a responsible parent.
However, as the best interests of the child remains the Court’s paramount consideration, the Court has the power to decide whether the parenting capacity of a person who has been diagnosed with a mental health condition is limited or reduced. In outcomes such as these, the Court may alter or change a parenting arrangement.
The common situations where mental health conditions become relevant to parenting disputes involve:
In any of the circumstances mentioned above, the party who has concerns regarding the other’s parenting capacity can seek to change an existing informal arrangement or apply to have existing parenting orders altered by the Court.
If a party to the proceedings claims that the other has a reduced parenting capacity as the result of a mental health condition/illness, they may present expert evidence (this is commonly from a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist) that supports their submissions.
However, the other party against which these claims are made may also present expert evidence. It is not uncommon for the Court to appoint an independent expert which can review all evidence and parties and prepare a report with recommendations to the Court.
If the Court believes a party who has been diagnosed with a mental health condition/illness has a reduced capacity, an order may be made which results in that party losing the right to provide daily or shared care of a child or children or the right to regular contact with the child (may instead be limited to supervised contact).
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