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How Does Mental Health Impact Divorce Cases in Illinois?

 Posted on November 26, 2018 in Divorce

Hoffman Estates divorce lawyer substance abuseDeciding to take the final step to end a relationship is never an easy decision, but divorce can become much more complex when one spouse has issues with a psychological condition that compromises his or her capacity. Mental illnesses and cognitive conditions are challenging to recognize and adequately address, and staying in a marriage with a person experiencing these issues may not be advisable if issues of safety and emotional stability are an issue for either spouse.

Divorce requires making a number of significant and binding decisions, and the presence of mental illness or cognitive dysfunction can greatly alter how these decisions are handled, as well as how the impaired spouse may respond to divorce as a whole. The overarching influence of mental illness in some divorces is rarely discussed, primarily due to the stigma associated with mental illness in this country generally. However, mental health issues can take many forms, from alcohol abuse to bipolar disorder, and these issues can affect a relationship in a wide variety of ways. Mental illness will touch more couples than is generally recognized, and it can affect divorce proceedings in the following ways:

Grounds for Divorce

A number of states include a provision in the law that authorizes a divorce if mental incapacity of a spouse is established; however, Illinois is not one of them. Until 2016, Illinois retained a divorce system that was primarily fault-based, and one possible grounds for divorce was drug and alcohol addiction, conditions that are known to alter the abuser’s mental state at least temporarily, and sometimes permanently. Qualified no-fault divorce did exist, but it required lengthy separation and other requirements that could be burdensome to satisfy.

Following a change to the law in 2016, Illinois is now a pure no-fault divorce state, meaning that all fault-based grounds have been eliminated, and only a claim of irreconcilable differences (an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage) may serve as the legal basis for divorce. This means the issue of mental illness or cognitive incapacity cannot be the reason to file for divorce, but it may absolutely play a role in how the process progresses. Further, if one spouse completely lacks the capacity to understand the legal proceedings, a guardian or other representative may need to be appointed to look after his or her interests.

Impact on the Divorce Judgment

Since Illinois does not recognize mental incapacity as grounds for divorce, these issues may be brought into the case in another manner. One common method to introduce mental impairment into a divorce case is to request a mental health evaluation of the other spouse. Due to the intrusive nature of these evaluations, evidence that mental health is a real issue will need to be presented to the court, and to bolster that position, the requesting party may be responsible for the evaluation fees and the lost income of the other spouse.

Mental health evaluations are principally used to assess a spouse’s fitness to parent a child, and the resulting report will focus on whether the spouse’s mental condition poses a danger to the child, necessitating restricted parenting time. Note that mental health evaluations that appear to be requested out of malice or ill will may result in a judge ruling in the other party’s favor during the divorce proceedings. These evaluations are a valuable tool in bringing mental health to the court’s attention, but evaluations should be viewed as a way to better inform the court, rather than a tactic used by a spouse to punish their former partner.

Get Help From a Palatine Divorce Lawyer

Divorce is full of tough decisions and learning how to compromise with the other spouse. If you have concerns about your spouse’s mental state and how it will affect his or her ability to participate in the legal process or care for your children, talk to dedicated Arlington Heights family law attorney Nicholas W. Richardson about your options. These complicated situations need sound legal counsel to address, and we can assess your case and help you craft the most effective approach. Contact our office at 847.873.6741 for a free consultation.


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