How Can a Suicidal Parent Lose Custody?
If the other parent is suicidal, you should immediately seek sole custody
It is a nightmare scenario for a parent. They learn the other parent has attempted suicide or has credible suicidal ideas or thoughts (called ideation). They do not know what to do.
Should they immediately seek sole custody of the child? The answer is usually, yes. A suicidal parent can and should lose custody on at least a temporary basis.
A suicidal parent will likely endanger a child
Those who are suicidal are not just a danger to themselves. A suicidal parent is also a danger to those around them.
1. A suicidal parent may commit suicide in the presence of a child
Suppose the suicide occurs outside the child's presence but while the child is in that parent's custody. In that case, the child can still potentially find the suicidal parent's body.
2. A suicidal parent may intentionally or unintentionally harm the child during the suicide
Consider a scenario where the suicidal parent commits a murder-suicide. These murder-suicide incidents do occur, especially in high-conflict child custody cases.
A suicidal parent may also hurt a child if the parent attempts suicide and the child attempts to stop the parent.
You can likely imagine the different scenarios a child can get hurt trying to stop a parent from committing suicide. The scenarios are dangerous if the suicide is violent and involves a gun or knife.
How long should a suicidal parent lose custody?
A suicidal parent should lose custody until they are no longer a danger to themselves and the child. That may be weeks, months, years, or never.
That is also likely a question a parent cannot answer.
Objective and neutral mental health professionals can recommend when a suicidal parent should regain some parenting time with the child. The court may appoint a private child custody evaluator, sometimes called a 730 evaluator, for such a purpose.
What if you do not ask for custody despite knowing the other parent is suicidal?
What if you know the other parent is suicidal and therefore a danger to the child? And you decide to do nothing? You may be neglecting your duties as a parent.
Parents are required to protect their children. A parent who fails to do so and that failure causes a child to become hurt may face serious legal issues if child protective services or law enforcement become involved.
What if the suicidal parent did not attempt suicide but has a suicidal ideation?
The question is, what is the extent of the suicidal ideation? The scenario is a fact-specific situation, so there is no general right or wrong answer.
Some people claim suicidal ideation to get attention. Others do so because they intend to commit suicide. And then you have everything in between.
The safer and smarter route is taking custody away from a parent with suicidal ideation.
The investigation and discovery process should flush out how sincere the ideation is during that child custody litigation process.
How do you take custody away from a suicidal parent?
Since suicide is an immediate danger to a child, the other parent should usually seek an emergency application (also called an ex parte application) for sole physical custody and no parenting time to the other parent.
An alternative to "no" parenting is safe parenting time, such as contact with the child through Zoom or professionally monitored parenting time.