Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a challenge that many people face due to lasting trauma, but it can impact child custody cases in a number of ways. When going through the divorce and custody process, the symptoms of PTSD can worsen and, in turn, this disorder may affect the custody decision if the wellbeing of the children involved is in question.
What Exactly Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a kind of disorder that can develop following frightening, dangerous, or otherwise shocking events. Everything from military service to a serious traffic crash could lead to the development of PTSD. Victims can experience two different types of PTSD: Chronic, which is ongoing, or acute PTSD, which is experienced in the short term and eventually subsides.
Symptoms of PTSD are experienced for longer than a month and are serious enough to negatively impact work and relationships. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, to be diagnosed, victims also need to exhibit a minimum of one reoccurring symptom, an avoidance symptom, two cognition and mood symptoms, and two arousal and reactive symptoms. Certain situations, words, images, or objects that remind victims of a traumatic experience can trigger the symptoms experienced.
Depending on whether the PTSD is chronic or acute, recovery times will vary from case to case.
How PTSD Could Affect Custody and Divorce
The strain of filing for divorce and an ensuing custody battle could aggravate PTSD symptoms. In addition to these struggles, co-parents may attempt to suggest that the parent afflicted with PTSD is unfit due to related behaviors, particularly if the PTSD is untreated.
The behavior of a parent with PTSD could also affect children on a behavioral and emotional level in some cases, in what is known as intergenerational transmission of trauma. This transmission may result from a child’s insufficient understanding of what the parent is experiencing and the traumatic incident that led to the disorder. As a result, the child’s behavior and emotional state could impact a custody decision if the parent’s behavior is perceived as a harmful influence.
In some cases, parents with PTSD may also exhibit violent behavior, which could lead the courts to perceive this as domestic violence, further affecting decisions around custody. Even if the person’s behavior isn’t directly violent, some symptoms such as visible distress resulting from certain sounds or images could lead the court to question the individual’s parenting abilities.
The Importance of Seeking Treatment
One of the biggest factors that may affect a court’s custody decision is whether the person with PTSD is actively seeking treatment for the disorder. If an individual believes that he or she is suffering from PTSD and exhibits symptoms, seeking treatment and a formal diagnosis could reflect positively when it comes to custody decisions.
If the court becomes aware that a parent with PTSD is seeking treatment, and that being able to visit the children may contribute to this treatment while helping children to better understand the condition, this could lead to a decision in the parent’s favor.
Although PTSD may affect custody decisions, the affected parent may still have a chance to gain custody by taking steps toward recovery.