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Mental illness and child custody in North Carolina

On Behalf of | Feb 14, 2024 | Conservatorship/Child Custody, Divorce |

Parents going through a divorce in North Carolina often share their deep concerns about what the court will think if they disclose that they suffer from a mental health illness or disorder.

It is certainly an understandable concern. Parents going through a divorce are going through enough as it is, and the thought of losing one’s children is beyond bearable.

How courts look at mental health

First, it is important to be as candid as possible with your attorney and the courts. You do not want to lie to the court, even if you feel afraid. Know that the judge is not out to take your kids away from you.

The role of the court is to abide by state law, which requires the court to ensure children’s stability, safety and happiness.

How does the court do this?

If mental health comes up, please know that it is a very common issue in divorce cases. One in five people in the United States lives with a mental health condition.

Whether this is you or the other parent, the court will want to know:

  1. If the child is stable with their parents
  2. If the child is safety with their parents
  3. If a parent has mental illness, whether they are under treatment
  4. If that parent adhered to their treatment and if it is working
  5. If the parent has a strong support system

In essence, the court wants to make sure the parents can take care of their kids. This means providing for their children, caring for them, giving them what they need and keeping them safe.


Judges may want to see evidence if mental health concerns are raised. For example, the court may ask a parent to provide them with their mental health records, or their physician’s professional opinion. The court may also conduct independent psychological evaluations.

The purpose behind this is not to prove that a parent is unfit to care for their child but that the child is safe with their parent. In other words, the focus is on the child, not on the parent’s mental illness.

What could happen?

Depending on the situation, the court may allow the parents to make a decision on their own, it may suggest mediation or it may want to make a determination itself using the legal standard for child custody.

In summary, mental illness does not automatically mean you cannot have custody of your kids. The court’s priority is always the best interests of the child, which include their stability, health and happiness.