Poor Mental Health Can Result in Lost Custody

Mother (M) and Father (F) never married, but had two children together Son (S) in 2007 and Daughter (D) in 2008. M and F permanently separated in 2010, and M retained full custody of the children. M and the children lived with M’s parents.

Beginning in 2015, M began having mental health issues including psychotic episodes. She became delusional and her actions scared her children. M believed she was being stalked, she heard voices, and she thought the children were controlled by the government. At one point, M attempted suicide and was finally hospitalized.

Although she sought mental health treatment for her illness, she was inconsistent in following treatment regimens. She checked herself into a treatment center and then checked out again because she didn’t like the director. Her psychiatrist prescribed medications for her. The medicine improved her condition, but then she stopped taking them.

During this time, M’s parents took over as primary caregivers for S and D, and did their best to keep M’s psychotic episodes away from the children. Also, during this time, F maintained a relationship with his children, providing financial assistance when he could, and exercising his visitation rights on weekends. However, since he did not have a permanent address (he sometimes lived with his parents and other times with girlfriends), he could not take full custody of them.

In February of 2016, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) began investigating M and her ability to provide for the welfare of her children. One month later, the juvenile court gave temporary custody of the children to M’s parents. In June, the court the court declared S and D to be dependents of the court, but placed them in the physical custody of M and F – providing M took her prescribed medications and the children continued to live in M’s parents’ home.

M appealed.

M argued that a juvenile court can only take jurisdiction over children when “child has suffered or will suffer, serious physical harm or illness”, and S and D had never been harmed nor could a court predict they would be harmed.

The Appellate Court held that the juvenile court did not presume harm to S and D merely because M has a mental illness. The court was instead concerned with M’s choice to not consistently treat her illness. M’s own psychiatrist reported that he would be concerned for S and D’s safety because of M’s mental condition if M were not medicated.

Categories: Child Custody
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