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Navigating child custody with a bipolar ex-spouse

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You and your spouse have decided to part ways. You want your child to maintain a close relationship with both parents, but you also want to keep your child safe. You’re concerned about how your ex's bipolar disorder could affect their parenting abilities. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings. During such episodes, bipolar sufferers may act in a way that's different from how they would normally behave. They may exhibit signs of either mania or depression – and will alternate between these two states:

  • Depression: Individuals in this state are often sad, exhausted and apathetic. They may be disinterested in things they would normally enjoy – such as hobbies or friends. They may find it difficult to get out of bed. This condition could affect a parent's ability to care for their children – from preparing meals to holding down a job.
  • Mania: In this state, individuals experience some type of “high” emotions. They may be happy and energetic – feeling as though they have superpowers – or they may be angry and agitated. Individuals in this state often act impulsively, without considering rationale or consequences to their actions. Excessive spending is common during manic episodes.

Options for handling a spouse's mental illness during your divorce

No parent should have to lose their relationship with their child solely because they have a mental illness. However, you may be worried about the safety and wellbeing of your child while in the care of a parent with a mental illness. If your child's safety is a concern during your divorce, you may be able to obtain a temporary child custody order issued for the duration of the divorce proceedings.

If your aim is to get sole custody of your child based on your spouse's mental illness, then you will need to provide proof of the mental illness as well as its potential to harm your child. If your spouse's condition is undiagnosed, your lawyer may be able to file a motion to get them a psychological evaluation.

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