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Mental illness can permanently damage your child custody rights

Did you know that the state of New York could conceivably take your child for an indefinite length of time based on your potential future mental health concerns? It has been happening throughout the nation for years, and the child custody practice is drawing increased concern from advocates for parents' rights. The question deals with "predictive neglect," defined as the risk that a mentally ill parent could endanger the safety of the child.

Although this may seem like an egregious violation of your rights, it happens all the time. One woman explains how, in August 2009, she suffered an episode of postpartum psychosis. Her child was justifiably taken away from her by the state, which maintained that she needed treatment before she could regain custody of her daughter. Since then, the woman has received treatment, effectively recovered from the postpartum psychosis and even had another child. However, years after the initial incident, her daughter is still in the physical custody of another family.

Examples such as this one are disturbing because the government essentially seizes control of the child strictly because the parent has a mental illness. However, mental illness does not always pose a threat to the child. Officials have the ability to take children out of their homes even if evidence of actual harm does not exist -- only the risk must be present.

Experts say that the system in New York and other states needs to be reformed, because those with mental illness have a right to physical custody of their children in many situations. Instead of looking at the person's entire life situation, the courts often rely on limited psychological tests that do not always show the parent's abilities. Going forward, it will be important to balance the rights of parents to legal custody while still considering the safety of children in their care.

Source: The Daily Beast, "One Breakdown Can Mean Losing Your Kid Forever" Seth Freed Wessler, May. 30, 2014

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