Think You Know How Your Spouse's Mental Health Will Affect Your Divorce? Think Again!

Posted on: 20 November 2017


Mental illness is a tricky subject to handle when it comes to divorce proceedings -- and a lot of people really don't understand how the issue can actually play out in court. Instead, they operate on outdated assumptions about how mental illness is viewed by the legal system and that can backfire on them in a big way.

If you're divorcing a spouse who has a mental illness, these are some of the things that you need to consider:

If You Make an Unproven Allegation, Be Prepared For the Backlash

You may firmly believe that your spouse has a mental disorder -- but before you take that belief into the courtroom, you'd better be certain not only that your spouse has been formally diagnosed with a mental disorder but the one you think he or she has. Otherwise, you may find yourself under a psychiatric microscope as well. 

For example, perhaps you really believe your spouse is bipolar or has a narcissistic personality disorder. You may even be right. But if you go into court with an unproven allegation insisting that it be taken into account when custody is considered, the judge may see that as a manipulative attempt on your part to interfere with your spouse's rights. 

Similarly, if you decide that you're 100% certain that your spouse has a serious mental disorder but know that he or she has never been diagnosed, you can ask the court to order a psychiatric evaluation -- as long as you are prepared to undergo one yourself.  

You May Not Get Full Custody of the Children

Now, imagine that you're right. Your spouse does have a mental disorder, and he or she has been formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder or some other serious issue. Surely, that's enough for the court to decide that your children should be protected from your spouse and you should get full custody, right? Wrong. Has your spouse's mental disorder ever caused him or her to hurt the children? Has your spouse ever left the children unattended? Has your spouse ever put the children in danger? Is your spouse entirely out of touch with reality or does he or she see a doctor, take his or her medication as prescribed and go to counseling?

The court is less interested in the fact that your spouse has a mental disorder than in how that mental disorder affects your spouse's ability to parent. In particular, since the courts strongly favor co-parenting plans these days, you can expect to still have shared custody. If your spouse does have issues that aren't currently under control, the judge may order supervised visitation -- but don't expect that to continue once your spouse's medication works out and he or she is no longer a danger.

You May Have to Pay Spousal Support

Finally, if your spouse has a mental illness that prevents him or her from working, you may have to pay spousal support indefinitely. The laws are designed to protect an able-bodied (or able-minded) spouse from "dumping" a spouse who develops a mental disorder onto the state. Your spouse may be required to file for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income disability benefits in order to relieve some of the financial burdens from you, but it's important to realize this possibility. 

Issues like these are why it's important to talk to an attorney about the specifics of your case -- rather than relying on what happened in someone else's experiences in years long past or rumors about the way people think something works in court. For more information, talk to a local divorce attorney today.