The Role of Mental Health in Family Law Cases

mental health in family law

Separation and divorce can be one of the most stressful experiences that people go through in life. When you have separated from your partner, various practical and legal matters need to be addressed such as the division of your property or discussing and making arrangements for the care of your children. Navigating the legal system whilst also coming to terms with your separation and all the practical changes as a result can be very demanding on anyone’s mental health.

Often being involved in family law proceedings is the first time that clients are exposed to the legal system. Family law proceedings are often emotionally charged and can include delicate matters such as child custody, visitation rights and domestic violence.

It is important to have good support around you when you are going through a separation. Clients often feel anxious and overwhelmed about their future and the prospect of starting over. It can sometimes be necessary for people to seek help from a medical professional if they are struggling to manage their health on their own.

Getting a referral for a mental health assessment plan is common for people dealing with separation. Whilst mental health has previously been considered a relatively taboo topic of discussion with a negative stigma attached to the term, society has come a long way in recognising that poor Mental health affects everyone in one way shape or form, and at various stages in their lifetime. It is not something that people should be ashamed of.

It is critical to recognise that court proceedings have a significant impact on mental health for both the people involved and also for their family and friends.

There are several organisations that provide counselling, support and advice for people suffering from poor mental such as: Lifeline, Black Dog Institute and Beyond Blue.

How is Mental Health considered in Court proceedings?

In property proceedings, mental health is a factor that the court can take into consideration when determining what contributions each of the parties made to the relationship, and the ‘future needs’ of the parties; particularly if one person has a diagnosis which prevents them from obtaining employment.

In parenting proceedings, the Court has broad discretion to take into consideration many different factors when determining what arrangements are in the best interests of the children. Mental health of the parents is one of these considerations. That is not to say that having a mental health diagnosis will negatively impact upon the time that you are able to spend with your children. When concerns have been raised in proceedings of a parent having poor mental health, the Court will consider this in the context of a potential risk of harm to the children. The Court will consider what the diagnosis is, whether the recommended treatment plan is being followed, and the practical impact of the diagnosis on the parent’s parental capacity. Once the level of risk has been identified, the Court can then weigh up the benefit of the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents, against any possible risks of harm.

If you are suffering from poor mental health, obtaining the appropriate medical assistance can demonstrate that you recognise you may need assistance, and that you are doing something to make a positive change to your mental health.

The Court can make Orders for parents to undergo mental health assessment, and reports can also be tendered to the court as evidence in support of a parents mental health and the impact of their condition on their parental capacity.

Being aware of your mental health, identifying when you may require assistance, and reaching out to get support is likely to best assist you throughout any court proceeding.

Here at Gillard Family Lawyers, we have experienced solicitors in the area of family law to help you manage your separation and legal matters with empathy and compassion; it is something that we pride ourselves on. If you need legal help with a Family Law matter, simply get in touch with our friendly team