Mental illness is a debilitating and sometimes dangerous condition when left untreated.  When a parent of a child has mental illness, the court in a custody, visitation, or termination of parental rights case can consider a parents mental illness history in limiting their access to their child or children.  

In the Interest of I.M.F., A Child, NO. 14-17-00758-CV, State of Texas in the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, March 6, 2018 In re I.M.F. (Tex. App. 2018), the trial court appointed Grandmother as the child’s sole managing conservator and named Mother and Father as the child’s possessory conservators. In re I.M.F. (Tex. App. 2018).  Mother allegedly had “extensive” psychiatric history and suffered from untreated mental illness. In re I.M.F. (Tex. App. 2018)   The trial court made findings including the following:  1.  Appointment of a parent or both parents as managing conservator would not be in the child’s best interest because the appointment would “significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional development.”  Appointment of Mother and Father as possessory conservators of the child would be in the child’s best interest, and the restrictions placed on their possession and access do not exceed those needed to protect the child.  

Based on those findings, the trial court appointed Grandmother as the child’s sole managing conservator and named Mother and Father as possessory conservators. It ordered: All visitation between the child and Mother shall be supervised by the managing conservator at all times and places as mutually agreed. Failing agreement, visitation shall be supervised in accordance with the Guardians of Hope Program.  The trial court further ordered Mother to pay monthly child support beginning August 1, 2017. In re I.M.F. (Tex. App. 2018)

The majority of the evidence at trial concerned Mother’s mental health and stability. A parent’s mental illness alone does not necessarily demonstrate that a child’s physical health or emotional development will be significantly impaired by parental custody. In re L.D.F., 445 S.W.3d 823, 831 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2014, no pet.). Untreated mental illness, however, can endanger a child, and accordingly is a factor the court may consider. See id. (considering father’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder and his five hospitalizations in connection with that disorder); see also In re A.L.H., 515 S.W.3d 60, 91 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2017, pet. ref’d) (considering parent’s persistent and untreated mental illness as evidence of endangerment for purposes of termination of parental rights); In re J.I.T.P., 99 S.W.3d 841, 845 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2003, no pet.) (considering parent’s mental health and noncompliance with medication schedule as factors in endangering child for purposes of termination of parental rights).

        CPS testified Mother was diagnosed with a mood disorder. Mother testified she was previously prescribed “medication to make her happy,” including Prozac, but she elected to stop taking the medication about a year before trial began. Just two weeks before trial, Mother began therapy “in place of medication.”

        Whether caused by her mental illness or not, Mother’s behavior during meetings with the Department and visits with the child troubled CPS. CPS recounted four such incidents, each of which was marked by Mother’s abusive language or uncontrolled anger. CPS estimated the child saw three or four such episodes in the two months before trial. Mother did not dispute any of these incidents.

        The trial court heard testimony about Mother’s past behavior and decisions regarding her mental health and about her recent counseling. In considering the child’s best interest, the court was free to use Mother’s past conduct to measure her likely future conduct. See In re J.D., 436 S.W.3d 105, 119 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, no pet.). In re I.M.F. (Tex. App. 2018).

The court concluded that the Department satisfied its burden to rebut the presumption that the child’s best interest would be served by remaining with Mother. Mother admitted she left her mental illness untreated for a year. Her admission, coupled with CPS’ testimony, supports a finding that appointment of Mother as a managing conservator would significantly impair the child’s health or development. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.131(a). The court overruled Mother’s issue appealed on this matter. In re I.M.F. (Tex. App. 2018).

A parent’s mental illness is a factor to be considered in determining whether to impose restrictions on that parent’s right of access to the child. See In re Marriage of Swim, 291 S.W.3d 500, 506 n.7 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2009, no pet.); B.J.W.S., 2010 WL 4396291, at *8 (father’s untreated mental illness, among other things, supported supervised visitation restriction). The evidence shows Mother has a history of volatile behavior, both in and out of the child’s presence. That volatility may be related to her mood disorder, a disorder for which Mother voluntarily discontinued treatment for roughly one year. The appellate court could not say the trial court abused its discretion in requiring Mother’s visits with the child to be supervised. In re I.M.F. (Tex. App. 2018).

As can be seen from the cases above, untreated mental illness can be used as a determining factor in possession and access to a child or children for a parent.  Therefore it is important for a parent with mental illness to rigorously follow their treatment regimen in order to be a fit parent to their child or children.

If you are worried your child’s mental illness is affecting the well-being of your grandchild, text us or fill out the contact us form on this website. We have used the case law in this blog to fight for supervised visits for parents with severe mental disorders.