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Mental Health Issues in a California Divorce

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When it comes to filing for divorce, there are “mixed states” where spouses can file for divorce on fault-based grounds or no-fault grounds, and then there are “no-fault” states where spouses can only file for divorce on no-fault grounds.

In mixed states, such as New York, spouses who are seeking a fault-based divorce must prove adultery, abandonment, incurable insanity, neglect, abuse, or another fault-based ground to obtain a fault-based divorce.

It’s a lot easier to obtain a no-fault divorce even if someone truly was in the wrong. For example, if one spouse was physically abusive, or one spouse cheated, or one spouse was mentally ill, the spouse filing for a no-fault divorce does not need to prove that their spouse’s misconduct led to the demise of the marriage.

Just about every state lets spouses file for divorce on no-fault grounds, even if someone was at-fault. If a spouse wants an easier divorce, all they have to do is file a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences. They don’t need to get into pointing any fingers.

California is Strictly a No-Fault Divorce State

If you’re a resident of California and you want to seek a divorce because of your spouse’s mental health issues, you may want to know if you can file for divorce based on incurable insanity. While California is strictly a no-fault divorce state, it does actually let people file for divorce because of legal incapacity or “incurable insanity.”

However, to file for divorce on the ground of incurable insanity, there will be a high burden of proof that you’ll have to meet. In other words, this is not an easy way to get divorced in California. To succeed, you’ll need to provide sufficient and convincing medical documentation, or you’ll need testimony from a psychiatrist that demonstrates to the court that:

  • At the time you filed for your divorce, your husband or wife was incurably insane, and
  • The medical professionals overseeing your spouse’s care expect him or her to be incapacitated and incapable of making important decisions for some time, if not indefinitely.

Should I Consider a Legal Separation?

Has your spouse been committed to a mental institution? Are you concerned that he or she will be there for a long time? Or, are you concerned that even if he or she is released in the next several months or year, that you’ll still have difficulty living with them and maintaining a healthy marriage?

If you have concerns about the future of your marriage, or how your spouse will respond to therapy and medication, a legal separation may be a temporary or long-term alternative to divorce as you wait and see how your spouse responds to treatment. If you are not ready for a divorce, a legal separation may be a better option.

California is one of a handful of states that allows for legal separations. A legal separation is much like a divorce in that it can address child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division. The main difference is that with a legal separation, you are still married and you are not legally divorced. Meaning, you cannot marry someone else until your legal separation is converted to a divorce.

If you are interested in legally separating for now while you wait and see what happens, you can live separate lives, but continue enjoying the benefits of marriage, such as Social Security benefits, health insurance, dental insurance, and veteran’s benefits. Of course, if you’re happy being legally-separated, you can stay that way indefinitely. There is no pressure to get on with the divorce unless you decide you want to remarry.

Can a Mentally-Ill Spouse Prevent a Divorce?

Suppose your spouse has severe mental health issues and they have deeply affected your marriage. Now, you are certain that you want a divorce but you’re concerned that your mentally-ill spouse can stop you from obtaining a divorce because of their mental status.

In a criminal case, someone can plead insanity as a legal defense and instead of being sentenced to jail or prison, they can be placed in a psychiatric hospital. That may be possible in the criminal justice system, but the same procedures do not apply to divorce cases. Your spouse cannot stop the divorce because they are “incurably insane” or placed under the care of a mental institution.

Your spouse cannot stop a divorce by pleading insanity, but they can be afforded certain legal protections. A judge may decide that if your spouse is living in a mental health facility, that he or she should be appointed a guardian ad litem to represent them during the divorce to ensure their legal interests are protected.

Can Mental Health Impact a Divorce?

In some situations, a spouse’s mental health issues can impact their divorce proceeding from child custody to property division and everything in between. Generally, severe mental health issues have the biggest impact on child custody and spousal support rulings.

For example, mental health issues can impact a spouse’s ability to hold down a job and support themselves. In effect, a judge may award the mentally ill spouse additional spousal support if the judge deems it necessary.

“What about child support?” If your spouse is suffering from mental illnesses, keep in mind that mental health issues do not free a parent of their child support obligations. For example, you may be awarded primary custody of the children because your spouse is mentally unstable, but that does not change the fact that he or she is still expected to financially support the children you have together. Parents have a legal duty to financially support their children, even if they have been diagnosed with mental health issues.

Next: Can Antidepressants Affect Child Custody in a Divorce?

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