In polling a room full of people who have experienced divorce, some will contend their ex-spouse is "crazy". Part of this is gallows humor and a way to cope with this past or present stressor; there are those for whom the situation will be a reality. This blog post addresses divorce and mental health statistics means to obtain a diagnosis or assessment under the law, and key implications for the divorcing parties.
First, divorce itself is now recognized as a traumatic experience and possible cause of an identity crisis; in the scenario of high-conflict divorce, it may even be such a serious repetitive trauma that divorce itself can lead to mental illnesses. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that within the U.S., 43.4 million adults meet the definition of having a mental illness; this data does not include developmental and substance use disorders.1 Thus, divorce can cause or contribute to mental illness and, mental illness may lead to divorce proceedings.
Some mental illness may be controlled by medicine or psychotherapy. When this is not the case, mental illness may have significant implications for the divorce. The hardest part is often getting an assessment or diagnosis. This is allowed for by the trial rules, and where children are involved, the statutory Paternity and Divorce Acts. Skilled counsel will be able to navigate this complexity in a divorce proceeding.
Second, in severe cases, a guardian may need to be appointed for this spouse because a key part of due process is the ability to meaningfully participate in the process. In this and similar cases, this disabled spouse may be entitled to rehabilitation maintenance from the other spouse under the facts and circumstances of the case until the mental impairment lessens or abates.
Third, when there are children between the divorcing parties, mental illness may factor into the court’s physical and legal custody determinations, as it must make a determination in the children’s best interests. This necessarily includes consideration of the “mental and physical health of all individuals involved.”2
Ultimately, divorce and mental illness sometimes intersect. In moderate to severe, experienced counsel will know how to litigate and defend such contentions as to their truth and implications. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates handle domestic (divorce and paternity) cases involving mental health issues throughout the state. This blog post is intended to provide general information and is not a solicitation for services or advice in a specific case. It is an advertisement.