A spouse’s mental health can be an important factor in a divorce proceeding, especially when children are involved. Although mental health cannot be blamed as grounds for a divorce in Washington, decisions made on matters such as spousal support and property division can be impacted. If you are struggling with a divorce involving mental illness, contact Twyford Law Firm today for a free consultation.
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Our firm has over 40 years of combined experience helping people work through problems including Divorce, Child Custody & Support, Spousal Support and other matters that may arise during a relationship.
We work closely with our clients, offering careful and compassionate guidance in an effort to achieve their goals.
We understand how difficult a divorce involving mental illness can be, and are here to help alleviate your stress by guiding you through the process.
How Mental Health Issues Can Affect Divorce
Every aspect of a divorce can be affected by mental illness. For example, if a spouse suffering from a mental illness is inhibited from making rational decisions, it will be difficult to reach amicable agreements regarding topics such as spousal support, property division, and child custody. This will inevitably extend and complicate the divorce process. Additionally, the opposing party may be required to financially support the other spouse with spousal support/maintenance or a larger share of the assets if their mental illness is severe enough that it prevents them from being able to financially provide for themselves.
How Divorce Affects Mental Health
Going through a divorce is always hard, but it can also be traumatic. Depending on a case’s specific circumstances, the legal process can be long and drawn-out, especially when divorcing a spouse who has a mental illness. Divorce is considered to be one of the most severe life stressors, due to the mental stress and susceptibility to illness, according to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which measures the relationship between life events.
Couples who are splitting up often experience a variety of psychological issues, including depression, an increase in stress, difficulty concentrating, and a decrease in life satisfaction. Additionally, there tend to be physical side effects, such as weight gain/loss, lack of sleep, nausea, heart problems, and other serious ailments. Some studies even suggest that the mortality rate is higher, when compared to those who stay married, and there is a potential risk of suicidal behavior. All of these effects can be heightened when a person is already suffering from a mental illness.
In general, men are usually confronted with greater emotional adjustment problems. The reasons for this are related to the loss of social connection, loss of intimacy, reduced finances, and in some cases an interruption of the parental role.
It is a struggle to go through a divorce and a strain on mental health but fortunately the issues don’t always have long-term detrimental effects. They are typically strongest at the beginning of the divorce until it is final. Support from family, friends, and possibly counseling can help couples successfully move forward.
The Impact of Mental Illness on Child Custody
When determining child custody arrangements, a judge will most often heavily consider mental illness. Custody rights in Washington are determined based on what is in the best interest of the child. Extreme cases in which a parent is proved unfit can result in a loss of custody. The grounds for doing so in Washington include:
The parent suffers from a debilitating mental deficiency or mental illness.
Regular abuse of drugs or alcohol to the extent that the parent cannot care for the child.
There is a pattern of willfully neglecting the child for an extended period of time.
The child is endangered from the parent-child relationship.
The parent either committed or attempted murder against the child’s other parent.
A felony assault was committed against the child or their sibling.
The parent is incarcerated for an extended period of time.
Most judges will advocate for both parents to remain actively involved in a child’s life unless it is a case involving any of the grounds listed above. A diagnosis of mental illness cannot be controlled, however, cases in which a parent is seeking treatment to confront the issue may bode well for them when it comes to child custody being determined by a judge.
Annulment from a Mentally Ill Spouse
A Washington spouse may have the option of seeking an annulment based on a spouse being mentally ill. In order to be granted, the mental health issue must have existed at the time the marriage was entered into.
What if I’m the One with Mental Health Concerns?
Mental illness can play various roles in a divorce and often impacts child custody arrangements, asset division, and spousal support. However, it doesn’t mean your spouse will get primary custody if you are a kind, loving parent and your mental health concerns do not hinder your ability to be a mother or father. A judge may even order your spouse to pay spousal support and child support.
Concerns will arise in your divorce, if your mental health:
Impairs your cognitive ability to make rational decisions.
Interferes with your parenting ability.
Creates a high risk of spousal or child abuse.
Puts the children at risk of being neglected.
Prompts you to seek spousal support due to the mental illness.
The main goals of the court are to ensure the safety of children, protect marriage assets, and create a plan for treatment if there are kids involved. If you have a mental illness that is so extreme that you are deemed to be incompetent, the court may appoint you a guardian. Additionally, your accounts may be frozen and access to funds limited if the illness creates a risk of marriage assets being dissipated.
When decisions must be made regarding custody, the best interest of the child will always be taken into account. An evaluation by a licensed mental health provider with experience in custody cases will typically be ordered. Pending the outcome of the evaluation, you may have little to no contact with your kids. The court will then give instructions on a recommended treatment plan as a condition of custody, such as medication and therapy. While undergoing treatment, you will likely have supervised visits with your children.
Contact a Mental Health and Divorce Lawyer Today
Our Spokane divorce attorneys at Twyford Law Office have extensive experience in handling family law matters related to mental illness. Reach out to our team today and schedule a free consultation by calling (509) 327-0777 or filling out our online form.