Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

States removing children when parents suffer a mental break

Those who have suffered a mental break, whether short or long-term, are treated with a mix of fear, distrust and hostility in some cases. Whether due to ignorance or willful malice, such treatment has an effect on not only those who are working to get better, but on all those who love and care for them. The stigma surrounding mental illness creates an environment in which families can be torn apart and individuals stripped of rights all under the guise of a helping hand.

The United States has long held a misguided contempt for those with psychological disabilities. A century ago, the mentally ill were forced into institutions, sterilized and forced to undergo sometimes fatal procedures, all with the blessing of the government. A 2012 presidential commission report found that "parents with psychiatric disabilities face the most significant discrimination when they create and maintain families." This may be most evident in cases in which a parent has suffered a mental break. While removing children from an unstable environment is the best and wisest course of action, states and courts are failing to recognize when a parent gets better.

Utah's family law code is one of only a few states in the nation that recognizes the discrimination faced by parents with psychological disabilities. In addressing the problem, Utah added the following section to its code: "A court may not remove a child from the parent's or guardian's custody on the basis of...mental illness." This protection does not extend to parents, however, in cases where there is suspected abuse or neglect of the child.

When it comes to children, their best interest is what should directly impact every decision made on their behalf. For many children, this means being home with a parent who may not be perfect, but who can still love and provide for them like any other parent.

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

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