According to recent studies, one in seven mothers may experience postpartum depression (PPD) within a year of giving birth. In reality, these numbers may be even higher when considering PPD is notoriously underreported and underdiagnosed.
Like several other mental health conditions, the symptoms of PPD can cause tension and conflict in a marriage. They can lead to divorce if left untreated.
The national conversation surrounding mental health has begun to chip away at the social stigma surrounding PPD. However, we have all read the horror stories of mothers who have the courage to seek help, only to get a knock on the door from the police or child protective services.
If you are pursuing a divorce in New Jersey and have concerns your spouse will attempt to weaponize a PPD diagnosis in a divorce or custody dispute, here’s what you need to know.
Will the Court Take My Children Away Because I Have Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a legitimate mental health condition affecting millions of women worldwide and is completely treatable. Taking antidepressants or seeking therapy for PPD will not hurt your custody case. In fact, the opposite is true.
The courts look favorably on parents who take the initiative to seek treatment for all types of depression before symptoms worsen and negatively impact their ability to parent. It is highly unlikely a parent would lose custody or parenting time with children because they are seeking treatment for PPD.
However, if a parent suffering from PPD refuses to seek treatment, and untreated symptoms begin to worsen or develop into postpartum psychosis or an otherwise dangerous mood disorder, the court will likely intervene to protect the safety and well-being of the children.
Definition of an “Unfit Parent” in New Jersey
Parents can be deemed “unfit” by the courts if their behavior is proven to be detrimental or dangerous to the child. This can include acts of abuse, neglect, cruelty, substance abuse, incarceration, severe mental illness, domestic violence, and poor judgement, among others.
The courts will factor a PPD diagnosis in its decision only if untreated PPD symptoms have contributed toward a home environment of abuse, neglect, or otherwise dangerous conditions.
If a parent is unwilling to seek treatment for PPD and symptoms are interfering with their ability to parent, the court may limit parenting time or require visitation to be supervised by a professional appointed by the court (or a person designated by the custodial parent).
Postpartum Depression in Men
Fathers can also suffer from postpartum depression. According to a study conducted by Eastern Virginia Medical School, 25 percent of U.S. men showed signs of postpartum depression within the first six months of the child’s birth.
Paternal postpartum depression can manifest the same symptoms and cause the same negative effects on children and relationships as postpartum depression for mothers. If left untreated, the court may factor any negative behaviors resulting from paternal postpartum depression into the custody and visitation arrangement.
Hire a New Jersey Divorce Attorney
The family lawyers at Arons & Solomon can help you protect your relationship with your children while promoting the safety and well-being of your family. If you are concerned your spouse will attempt to exploit a PPD diagnosis in a divorce or custody dispute, we can help.