According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), “Research shows that mental illnesses are common in the United States, affecting tens of millions of people each year. Estimates suggest that only half of people with mental illness receive treatment.” The NIMH continues, “Nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (44.7 million in 2016).
With statistics like those mentioned above, it’s no wonder why mental illness plays a role in a share of divorces. Not surprisingly, a number of spouses admit that their spouse’s mental illness was a determining factor in their decision to divorce. Or, that their own mental illness played a role in their spouse’s decision to divorce. Beyond that, a diagnosis of mental illness can have a material impact on the divorce proceeding itself.
If you are contemplating a divorce and there is a question about your mental health, or your spouse’s mental health, and how it can affect child custody, spousal support, and your overall divorce settlement, we urge you to contact our firm for advice. Before you file for divorce, you should learn more about how mental illness can impact your case.
How Mental Illness Can Impact a Divorce
When it comes to divorce proceedings, mental illness can be tricky. Since the facts vary so widely and no two cases are identical, it’s impossible to say that all cases involving mental illness will have the same outcome because that’s simply not true.
Some people have such a severe case of mental illness that they are living in another world. They can hear voices. They have hallucinations or they’re delusional. They can be suicidal or homicidal, disconnected from reality and unable to hold down a job, care for their children, or even take care of themselves. They can be emotionally volatile, violent, or suffer continuous physical symptoms like fatigue and stomachaches.
They may even be in and out of mental hospitals and if they stop taking their medication, they may go missing or spend all day in bed, unable to interact with their family and the outside world. While anxiety and depression maynot be crippling, the following conditions can have an effect on a divorce, but others can too:
- Social phobia
- Bipolar Disorder
- Paranoid Personality Disorder
- Multiple Personality Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Sometimes, mental illness can play a role in a divorce. Often, it has a way of impacting child custody, asset division (Does the mentally ill spouse doesn’t have the cognitive ability to handle half the marital assets?), and spousal support.
If your spouse is accusing you of being mentally ill, it can stigmatize you and your children’s perspective of you as their primary caregiver. You could be a responsible, loving parent, but if your husband or wife is labelling you as mentally ill, it can affect your children’s opinion of you, especially if they’re old enough to understand the accusations or an official diagnosis.
Suddenly, you may become less in your children’s eyes. Instead of taking care of them every day, they may think they need to take care of you. They need to make you dinner. Drive you to the doctor’s office (teenagers), let you sleep in, and help you with the household chores.
If your children are already stressed by the divorce, introducing mental health issues can make an already bad situation worse. The stress can reach the boiling point, causing your children to act out, slam doors, run to their friends’ houses, and have difficulty socializing at school and during extracurricular activities.
Are You Concerned About Your Spouse?
Perhaps you’re perfectly fine, but it’s your spouse your concerned about. If your spouse can’t get out of bed, or if they can’t take care of your children, or if they are disappearing for hours or days at a time, or if they are completely disconnected from reality, you may be concerned that they are incapable of caring for your children.
If your husband or wife’s mental illness is such that unsupervised parenting time is dangerous to your children, we suggest you start documenting your spouse’s condition and recording information of witnesses who have seen first-hand your spouse’s episodes. You may need to introduce this as evidence in court.
However, if your spouse’s mental illness does not pose any actual risk of harm, if he or she simply holds different values than you, it may be better to find another way to seek custody of your children. It may be easier to persuade him or her that it’s in the best interests of the children. You don’t want to play the mental illness card unless it is a very real and valid issue that needs to be addressed by the court. After all, your children love both of you and they need two loving parents in their lives.
How Mental Illness Can Affect a Divorce Settlement
A bitter spouse can swear to get even when they get to court because of their spouse’s mental illness, but more often than not they’re wrong. In fact, the spouse may get the opposite of what they anticipated. If the mentally ill spouse is a kind, loving parent and their mental illness does not get in the way of their parenting, the court could order the healthy spouse to pay spousal support and child support, and they may not award the healthy spouse primary custody.
When should mental illness be a concern in a divorce?
- When it interferes with a spouse’s parenting ability.
- When there is a high risk of spousal or child abuse.
- When the children are at a risk of being neglected.
- When the mentally ill spouse will seek spousal support because of their mental illness.
Related: Can Antidepressants Affect Child Custody in a Divorce?
If mental illness is an issue in your divorce, we urge you to contact our firm to meet with a Los Angeles divorce attorney for free. You should know how mental illness can impact your divorce proceedings.