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How can a medical condition impact custody?

By Jamie Berger, Esq.

When it comes to child custody and parent time, a variety of factors go into determining the arrangement that will work best for your family. First and foremost in those factors are a child’s safety, health, and overall well-being. The New Jersey courts often refer to this as a child’s best interest.

In the process of determining the best arrangement for a child’s mental and physical health, families should factor in things such as school, finances, a parent’s schedule, and most importantly, a parent’s ability to care for their children. This may include the topic of both the physical and/or mental fitness of either parent.

There are many cases in which a parent’s medical condition will not impact their ability to care for their child at all. That said, more serious conditions may warrant discussion or consideration as parents navigate child custody decisions.

Approaches to considering medical conditions in child custody agreements

There are numerous ways for parents to determine how to best provide for their children when crafting custody and parenting time arrangements. If you and your co-parent are able to collaborate on your custody agreement, then you may be able to develop a customized parenting time plan that accounts for any health conditions. This allows both parents to have the most say possible in their parenting time plan.     

On the other hand, if you and your former partner cannot come to a mutual agreement, the court may need to step in to determine child custody arrangements. In this case, you will both present your case to the courts, but ultimately the court will determine the final outcome. 

During the process of establishing your child custody order, they will consider any medical conditions that could affect your ability to care for your children. As such, they will review whether those physical or mental conditions could harm a child or have other negative impacts. Because every person’s medical history is unique no matter their diagnosis, a court will look into the specific issues regarding your case to make that determination.

Can one physical or mental limitation have more of an impact on custody over another?

There is no blanket rule that one medical condition will have a greater impact than another on child custody arrangements. Courts review each case to determine what is in the best interest of your child when making those decisions. 

In general, the court will consider the fitness of a parent, assessing: 

  • If a parent suffers from a mental illness, whether that illness or the behaviors which stem from it pose a risk to the child or parent, such as a demonstrated tendency to refuse treatment or an inability to exercise judgment about well-being when it comes to the child.
  • Whether a health condition makes a parent physically unable to care for their child such that the child’s needs will not or cannot be met by the parent without additional precautions or at all.

Unless it is demonstrated that a parent is unable to create a safe and healthy environment for their child, New Jersey courts hold that a child’s best interest typically includes having a relationship with each parent, and prefer to continue a child’s access to both parents, and, if practicable, for the parties to continue to enjoy joint legal custody. 

Child custody evaluations

It’s important to keep in mind that children have emotional and psychological needs as well as physical needs. Judges will consider all facets of a child’s best interest which includes the psychological benefits (and in some cases, potential harm) that come from having a relationship with both parents. 

The State of New Jersey, can, when necessary, use a child custody evaluation to help determine what living arrangements, including joint custody or parenting time schedule, is in a child’s best interest. 

During this process, a mental health professional may, based on the specifics of the situation and the evaluator’s process:

  • Interview the child and parents separately
  • Observe the child with each parent
  • Review court documents
  • Talk with other adults who are important in the child’s life, such as educators, doctors, or caregivers
  • Conduct psychological tests if necessary

The purpose of this evaluation is to receive feedback from an expert as to what is best for the child in terms of health, safety, home life stability, and emotional and attachment needs. This may include reviewing the impact of a parent’s medical condition, both in the short-term and long-term. This helps the Court make its ultimate decision as to how to address custody and parenting time, or to help parents make agreed-upon choices for their children 

Find the right parenting plan for your child’s needs

If you or your co-parent have a medical condition that may impact your child’s care, it’s important to work with an experienced child custody attorney to determine the best path forward. 

Whether you are working with your co-parent to reach a settlement, or you are facing court proceedings, there are a number of options for your family to build the most stable parenting plan for your children. A parent’s ongoing or future medical issues are just one consideration in a larger picture regarding your child’s best interests. 

The family law attorneys at Jacobs Berger, LLC, have extensive experience navigating child custody and parenting time agreements in New Jersey. We seek to help you protect your child’s health and well-being, as well as build an individualized custody and/or parenting plan that meets the needs of all parties.

Contact our team to coordinate your strategy planning session.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.