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Custody and Depression

I speak as an attorney who practices family law and who has litigated many custody disputes. I also speak as a single parent who has watched two children live through the experience of divorce when they were 8 and 12 and who has lived through the pain of watching a child leave my house because the grass looked greener on the other side. I believe that one of my key roles as your lawyer, is to help you navigate through the emotional turmoil that custody litigation involves.

My background first. I married relatively young the first time - 24. It lasted only a year and there were no children. As I proceeded through the divorce process and was completely disillusioned by the manner in which my attorney kept me in the dark about the progress of my case, I made the decision at age 28 to attend law school as a night student. My education and experience up to this point had been in the field of accounting and business valuation. I am a CPA (license inactive) and was certified as a Senior Member of the American Society of Appraisers specializing in the valuation of closely held businesses. I don't keep that latter certification current because I choose now to devote my focus to the family law area.

I graduated from law school four years later, at the age of 31, had married in that time, and also had my first child. I was as a new lawyer, a new wife and a new mother. I had my second child, my son, four years later, and was married for 17 years.

I have litigated and conciliated many custody cases. I have seen what I consider to be horrendous decisions by judges who apply their personal biases to these matters with little or no psychological training. I have seen some very good decisions made by judges with caring and logic applied to the painful situation. I have also seen judges who rely solely on recommendations from psychologists who don't properly evaluate the parents.

There is a body of principles that must be followed by psychologists in performing forensic custody evaluations. It has been my experience that many court-appointed psychologists are not performing their duties. The excuse that I hear most frequently is that the cost will be too high if they apply the procedures that are designed to help evaluate parenting capabilities. Consequently they prepare reports that support their custody recommendation that are nothing more than a personal opinion with no foundation.

I have seen competent and loving parents get a very limited amount of time with their kids because they experienced a period of depression or post-traumatic stress related to their divorce and they didn't get help.

Instead, they engaged in behavior that gave their spouse cause to argue that they were not competent parents. Once there is a status quo custody arrangement, my experience has been that it is very costly and very difficult to change until the child becomes of high school age so that the court will listen to them.

Don't try to deny depression or anxiety. Yes, hide it from your spouse, but go get medical and psychological assistance. Talk to your attorney about it, get medication and SEEK COUNSELING. If you have health insurance many plans will cover up to 20 visits per year. Many churches have counseling groups that charge far less than private counselors. And most of the churches have support groups and "Divorce Care" programs that assist you and others through the process.

Many times counseling without medication isn't enough. Your goal is the stay the healthiest, mentally and physically, so that you can be a good parent to your children. The best place to get medication is from a psychiatrist. They are the most qualified to judge dosage and are familiar with the effects of far more drugs than your PCP. You can get the referral from your PCP. I was medicated with Celexa, without feeling any mental or physical effects. This enabled me to cope with the stresses of the day and to function as both a mother and the breadwinner.

I have built my own law firm and have raised two children without the help- - physically or financially-- from their father. In addition, my son has Type I diabetes. After approximately being on my own with this situation for nearly 10 years, I have to question whether I would have been able to keep it together without medication and therapy.

My counselor has become my life advisor and I utilize her services every time I encounter an issue, work or personal, that I need help thinking through. There is a law in Pennsylvania that protects all your communication with a mental health professional. You are the only person who can waive that right and I have seen the courts uphold it. So don't be afraid to see a professional. Introspection and learning new coping mechanisms are marvelous and give your children a terrific model.

I have also seen parents get limited time because they permitted a custody arrangement to exist that gave them limited time with their child. In many cases the reason for agreeing to less than equal custody is due to the fact that the leaving spouse doesn't want to require the child to adjust to a change in their lifestyle.