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Obtaining custody when you're mentally ill

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or another form of mental illness, do you live in terror that your spouse will pick up and leave and demand full custody of the children? Do you just assume that you have no hope of getting shared custody simply because you have a mental health diagnosis and have sought mental health treatment?

It doesn't quite work that way.

To be sure, your fears aren't entirely unfounded: Mental illness is still very stigmatized. This remains true even though more than 46% of people in the United States are believed to suffer from some form of mental illness at least once in their lives.

It is true that untreated mental illness can interfere with your ability to be an effective parent. It can also damage your relationship with your children -- and damage the way that they perceive the world around them. But if you are treating your mental illness and your symptoms are under control, there's no particular reason that you can't be a good parent -- or that you can't win custody.

If your spouse is determined to keep you away from the children, you can bet that your history of mental illness will be presented to the court -- but it's up to your spouse to show that you are somehow a risk to the children. You will also have plenty of opportunity to show the court that you are a safe, loving and protective parent who is capable of providing a healthy, happy home for the children despite your condition.

If you're concerned about how your mental health will affect child custody, take active steps to find out how to protect your rights.

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