How the Court Can Evaluate Your Spouse (or Your Child’s Other Parent) for Mental Illness in Illinois Child Custody Proceedings
Often times marriages or relationships terminate due to underlying factors, such as mental health issues. When a parent suffers from mental illness, it can impact all parts of their lives, especially their ability to parent and co-parent with the other parent. In Chicago, we often see allegations of mental health issues raised in family law and divorce proceedings, which the court takes very seriously. When these cases involve children, there are certain remedies the court has to evaluate or otherwise look at the parent’s mental health.
Allegations of Mental Health Issues in Cook County Family Law Cases
In Cook County specifically, if there are allegations that a parent suffers from mental health issues, depending upon the seriousness of the allegations, the parties could be ordered to Emergency Intervention.
The parties and the children all meet with the staff in Emergency Intervention, who immediately discuss all issues with all parties and often the children, and prepare a report for the Court later that day, which is then presented to the Judge. If there are underlying mental health issues, Emergency Intervention can make specific recommendations regarding how the Court should proceed. The recommendations can include following the recommendations of a parent’s doctor and having the parent seek treatment, etc. A diagnosis is not given in Emergency Intervention as the staff is not doctors. They are just trained to evaluate the urgent nature of a family law situation and make recommendations to try and resolve the emergency situation, which could include having someone evaluated for mental illness or related issues.
Request for a Mental Health Evaluation
Illinois Supreme Court Rules do provide specifically for a way for a party to request a Mental Health Evaluation (also referred to as a “215 Evaluation”) by a licensed professional. When there is a concern a party may suffer from mental illness or have mental health issues, a party can request that one be done on the other party.
Costs for Mental Health Evaluation
The requesting party is forced to pay the cost of the Mental Health Evaluation and transportation of the party undergoing the evaluation, as well as their lost wages, when applicable. The Illinois rules essentially provide that if you want it bad enough, you will pay the costs associated with it. It is an extremely serious remedy and it is only used in the most extreme circumstances. Additionally, if a party requests a 215 evaluation, they should be prepared for the other party to likewise request one of them. These reports are lengthy and often have specific recommendations for treatment if there is found to be an underlying issue.
Mental Health Considerations in the Custody Evaluation
Another evaluation process where mental health is considered, but there is no diagnosis, would be in what we used to call a “custody evaluation” or a “604.10 evaluation”. The primary purpose of the Custody Evaluation is to see if the parents are fit and if it’s proper for the parent to have parenting time and/or decision making abilities for the minor children, as well as recommendations of what the Court should order based on their findings. The evaluator usually does not make a diagnosis of the parties in this scenario but looks deeply into the parties’ ability or inability to work together, where their problem lies, how it can be addressed. The evaluator will also recommend what a good parenting time and parental responsibility/decision-making plan would be for those parents’ specific circumstances. In this scenario, the evaluator looks at both parents. It is a thorough process where the evaluator does interviews and often testing to provide assistance the Court needs to reach conclusions regarding the specific issues with custody.