Depression affects millions of Americans each year. If left untreated, it can lead to the breakdown of relationships, including marriages.
Depression–and the unwillingness to treat it–can play a major role in a couple’s decision to get a divorce. However, it won’t likely affect the divorce settlement itself unless the couple have children and it can be proven the behavior of the depressed parent is dangerous or otherwise inconsistent with the best interest of the child.
If both parents cannot agree on a custody and visitation agreement, a judge will decide for them. The judge will make decisions on a case-by-case basis, and may request a custody expert conduct evaluations of both parents and the children.
Defining the “Best Interest of the Child” in New Jersey
The “best interest of the child” refers to the child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Unless proven otherwise, it is assumed by the court that children benefit from having both parents play an active role in their lives.
According to N.J.S.A. 9:2-4, New Jersey courts will consider several factors when determining the best interest of the child, including:
- Age and number of children in each home
- Both parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child, existing custody arrangement, and/or parenting time
- Extent -and quality- of time spent by both parents with the child before and after separation
- Fitness of both parents
- General proximity of the parents’ homes
- Location of the child’s school
- Preference of the child, if age appropriate
- Preserving healthy sibling and parent-child relationships
- Special needs of the child, if applicable
- Stability of the home environment
- The immediate physical safety of the child (and other parent), along with any history of domestic violence in the household
- Work hours and responsibilities of each parent
- Any other issues the court deems relevant
New Jersey courts will always prioritize the best interest of the child over all other factors, including the wishes of both parents and grandparents. If untreated depression negatively affects one or more of the criteria listed above, it could have an impact on the custody arrangement.
What if the Depression Worsens During Divorce?
Divorce is a highly upsetting time. It’s common for parents to experience high levels of anxiety and sadness. It can be especially triggering for those already suffering from clinical depression.
A depression diagnosis on its own is highly unlikely to influence a divorce settlement or custody arrangement, especially if the person with the diagnosis is seeking treatment. However, a custody arrangement can be re-evaluated if it is believed an untreated condition is interfering with the safety or best interest of the child.
There would have to be a substantial change in circumstances for a custody modification to happen, and it would have to be demonstrated with proof. The parent requesting the modification must also prove the new circumstances are inconsistent with the best interest of the child.
Hire a New Jersey Family Law Attorney
Arons & Solomon is dedicated exclusively to family law. Our attorneys work with clients in New Jersey and New York to make sure children stay connected with loving parents, and protected from environments of danger and neglect. If you are looking to negotiate or litigate a custody agreement, or modify an existing custody agreement, we can help.