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Not only can the stress of settling a divorce, separation, or parenting time negatively affect mental health, but pre-existing mental health conditions can play a critical role in family law cases. At Gelman & Associates, our lawyers can assist with family law cases and additional challenges introduced by mental health concerns. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Mental Health in Canada

Mental health can refer to one’s general mental well-being or a specific mental illness. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association:

  • 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.
  • By age 40, around 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness during their lifetime.
  • Depression and anxiety affect over 10% of the Canadian population.

Because of their prevalence, mental health challenges can indirectly affect all Canadians by association with a family member or friend.

Mental Health Concerns and Parenting Conflicts

If symptoms of mental illness affect an individual’s ability to parent, it may lead to a breakdown in their relationship with their partner or with their child. A separation, divorce, or parenting disagreement may occur as a result.

Historically, Ontario courts have acknowledged mental health issues when deciding family law cases. In A.C.V.P. v. A.M.P., a father sought sole decision-making responsibility over his children on the grounds that the mother had serious mental health issues. Although the mother alleged she had been abused, the judge granted sole decision-making responsibility to the father after the mother failed to obtain a valid psychiatric assessment. Khurmi v. Sidhu also saw the court initially deny a divorced father’s request for expanded parenting time due to his hospitalization for suicidal ideation and excessive drinking.

Parental Mental Health & Best Interests of the Child

Under the federal Divorce Act and Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act, parenting time is determined by how an arrangement may affect a child physically, emotionally, and psychologically. As a result, mental health may impact decision-making responsibility if it is found that a parent’s mental illness might harm their child’s best interests.

Under some circumstances, an individual’s mental health challenges may not be found to negatively affect their parenting abilities, as in the case of Casselman v. Noonan. This outcome becomes more likely if an individual can provide historical proof of having received counselling or medication from a mental health professional. Mental illness is more likely to affect parenting time if it has prevented an individual from acting in the best interest of the child. For example, access may be limited due to symptomatic violent, unreliable, or otherwise unstable behaviour that an individual has not received treatment for.

Experiences of mental health can vary widely, especially when related to decision-making responsibility over children. For a better understanding of how your or your partner’s mental health may impact the outcome of your family law matter, it may be helpful to speak to a family law lawyer about your unique circumstances.

The Office of the Children’s Lawyers (OCL)

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) employs lawyers, clinicians, and social workers who represent the interests of children under 18 years of age involved in legal matters. Regarding decision-making responsibility cases, the OCL may provide:

  • Voice of the Child Reports

A Voice of the Child Report is submitted by an OCL-employed clinician to the court. It outlines the child’s opinion about parenting time, decision-making authority, or contact limits. A Voice of the Child Report will typically be requested by a judge based on the circumstances of your case. Once the request has been accepted by the OCL, an affiliated clinician will conduct two separate interviews with the child in question and submit all relevant information to the court and parties involved.

  • Children’s Lawyer Reports

A Children’s Lawyer Report, submitted by an OCL lawyer to the judge or court, provides a more comprehensive overview of which parenting arrangements may be in the best interests of the child. A Children’s Lawyer Report will include the opinions of any children involved, the position of each parent, the opinion of any other relevant party (i.e. teachers, doctors, caregivers, or mental health professionals), and the OCL lawyer’s recommendations.

In terms of mental health, the OCL provides certified mental health professionals (clinicians) who have trained in childhood development and conflict resolution. In the case that a clinician is assigned by the OCL, they can help address clinical concerns such as prior mental illnesses.

Contact Our Family Lawyers For a Consultation

Whether mental health professionals become involved in family law cases when parties require assistance, or by court order, it is important to note that mental health is taken seriously in family law matters. Contact our Toronto family law lawyers for legal assistance today.

Disclaimer: For specific legal advice on your family law matter, please consult with a family law lawyer. The content in this article is not intended to act as legal advice and is instead intended to act as a general overview of a legal topic.

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