Psychological health often gets taken for granted, but mental illness is a major component of life for around half of adults in the US. It can impact employment, physical health, and most prominently, intrapersonal relationships, particularly romantic partnerships.
Studies show that marriages in which one or both partners experience some form of mental illness are more likely to divorce. One unfortunate consequence of this is that separation and divorce can induce additional mental distress, which can lead to a worsening of an already-existing mental illness.
What does this mean for the legal aspects of divorce?
If mental illness symptoms and challenges become visibly worse and impair the person’s ability to function while divorce proceedings are in process, this could impact major decisions regarding things like child custody, alimony, and even the type of divorce being filed. It can also create an extra level of contention in the divorce, leading to additional drama, fighting, and a longer trial.
Poor coping behaviors could be taken into account. For example, a person whose history of depression and substance abuse worsens as they deal with the emotional impact of divorce could lose a custody battle if drinking or substance abuse becomes excessive and problematic. The person’s spouse could also use their words and actions against them in court, even if they’re the result of a breakdown or heightened state of distress, since it might suggest instability, unpredictability and an inability to cope with challenges.
Another example is the onset of severe mood swings, erratic behaviors, or extreme anger outbursts. If allowed to escalate, this could result in allegations of abuse or unsafe circumstances, and accelerate unfavorable decisions in the divorce in an effort to protect the spouse or children.
Mental illness can shape the divorce
The type of divorce filed for can be altered by mental illness-related behaviors, including psychosis or detachment from reality, the inability to hold a job, having difficulty getting out of bed and leading a relatively structured life, and other impediments to individual and household well-being.
Instead of filing on the “no fault” grounds of irreconcilable differences, a severely mentally distressed person’s spouse might seek a divorce based in fault, meaning the mental illness created unlivable or unsafe circumstances. This can afford the spouse and children extra legal protections, and can possibly affect custody and spousal support rulings.
Seek help to reduce the risks
People experiencing psychological distress from a divorce should seek a counselor or therapist to explore treatment options. Leaving the problems unchecked could result in a much more difficult divorce process with irreversible consequences.
A divorce attorney can help answer questions about the impact of mental health on your divorce.