Mental Health Issues and Divorce

Going through a divorce is a trying process for everyone involved.  When a partner in a relationship has a psychiatric condition, the divorce can become more complicated. When mental health issues and divorce are combined, there are some important things to consider.

Divorce and a Symptomatic Partner

When a person is diagnosed with a psychological or psychiatric condition there can be certain events or situations which can cause them to experience more of the symptoms of their condition.  One main trigger for people in this situation may be unusual stress.  For many, divorce is one of the most stressful times they will have to ensure.  As such, it is not uncommon for a person in this situation to become symptomatic while experiencing the conflict and anxiety which accompanies divorce.  Depending on the situation, the person may become irrational and unreasonable in their demands regarding the other person and their joint property.  Further, the greater the degree of conflict between the parties the more these symptoms may become exacerbated.   This often leaves the couple in a deadlocked position unable to communicate and negotiate with one another regarding the terms of their divorce.  In such a situation, it may be necessary for the court to become involved.

Spousal Support and Mental Health

In New York, a court is permitted to award spousal support (called maintenance in New York) after considering certain factors and making some calculations.  In addition to other elements, the court will compare the health, age, and earning capacity of the parties in order to determine what support may be appropriate.  When one of the people divorcing has a mental illness, the court may weigh these factors and determine that that person’s mental health has a debilitating effect that it will inhibit their ability to support themselves now and in the future.  This may mean the other partner will be ordered to pay for their support. Depending on the situation, the court may order spousal maintenance be paid by one spouse to the other for a period of time or even permanently. The amount of and length of time for support will depend on the circumstances of the case.

Property Division

A New York court looking at dividing marital assets is tasked with making an equitable division of the couple’s marital property and debt.  In doing so, the court will consider what it believes to be fair based on statutory factors and what each person will need in the future.  The court may take a person’s mental health into consideration in its evaluation of the case.

Divorce with Children

For those who are divorcing and have children, mental health concerns will most likely be part of the court’s evaluation and decision regarding custody and visitation.  In New York, like most other states, the court must make decisions regarding custody and visitation which are in the best interest of the child.  This determination is made by looking at both parents and considering evidence of the child’s well-being and safety.  If a parent with a mental illness has demonstrated stability and safe behavior in the presence of their child, a court may be inclined to allow them standard custodial and visitation privileges.  However, if the parent has a proven history of being violent, unsafe, or abusive due to their mental illness or otherwise, a court may decide supervised visitation, and limited custody is in the best interest of the child.

A positive approach to this situation which may create the possibility of peaceful resolution is to incorporate a collaborative divorce model from the beginning of the divorce.  This divorce process allows for the inclusion of qualified professionals, including those trained in mental health, who will serve to help the couple as they identify their needs and desires concerning the end of the relationship.  By incorporating mental health professionals, the couple will have an opportunity to address this aspect of the divorce in a therapeutic and productive manner.  From there the couple can cooperatively find ways to separate peacefully.  By beginning from a place of working together rather than against one another, a couple in this situation may have a good chance reaching agreements which serve everyone’s interest and allows for resolution.

Mental health issues and divorce can be very complicated.  We have attorneys who are experienced in helping families through this process and can provide guidance and support for your family.  Contact us to learn how we can help.

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