How Mental Illness Can Impact Divorce
Why a person decides to divorce is often varied. Yet many divorced individuals cite financial and family pressures as the impetus for ending a marriage. However, a situation that is particularly difficult to navigate is when one spouse has a mental health issue, either due to substance/alcohol abuse or a psychiatric condition, which makes staying married unworkable.
Individuals with mental health problems can be unstable and unpredictable, which complicates the legal process. Even amicable divorces are likely to have some amount of contention due to the nature of the situation. Still, divorcing someone with mental health issues can greatly inhibit, if not completely eliminate, the ability to negotiate a settlement or avoid a highly-litigated divorce case.
While mental illness can impact a number of issues related to divorce, the one that rightfully gets the most attention is child custody/parental responsibility. Courts will work with struggling parents to give them every opportunity to see their children. Still, mental health problems frequently reverberate far beyond child custody.
Emotions are high in any divorce case, yet they can play a particularly strong role in divorce as a result of mental illness. The spouse choosing to pursue divorce often develops feelings of guilt, stemming from perceptions the spouse in mental distress is being abandoned, and can make him or her more susceptible to agreeing to settlement terms that are not in his or her best interests.
Further, mental illness can produce irrational behavior that can manifest in the pursuit of an all-out scorched earth response to the divorce petition. This reaction will, unfortunately, greatly extend the time and cost of the divorce. Therefore, this possibility should be considered and discussed with an experienced divorce attorney.
The other big issue, outside of child custody, is the possibility that the mentally ill spouse will react with violent outbursts and threaten the safety of the spouse seeking divorce. Such actions may be driven by a fear over a loss of control. If this should occur, the threatened spouse needs to take swift action to protect himself or herself from serious harm.
Illinois Courts will issue orders of protection, or restraining orders, to keep the abuser away for a specified period of time in hopes of preventing injury. Petitions for orders of protection are handled on an expedited basis due to the seriousness of this issue, and emergency orders lasting 14 to 21 days are issued to secure the victim's immediate safety.
While an emergency order is in effect, the Court will hold a hearing to consider arguments from both sides, and decide if the order of protection should continue or be lifted. Orders of protection are valid up to two years, and may be extended beyond that point if necessary.
Finally, when a parent's mental condition could endanger a child's emotional or physical health, the situation needs to be brought to the Court's attention so the appropriate safeguards can be erected. Introducing this issue to the Court starts with filing a petition calling the other party's mental stability into question, and requesting that he or she undergo a physical and/or mental examination by health care professionals.
Courts have discretion to order an examination or deny the request, and will investigate whether the request was made in good faith or for retaliatory purposes. Thus, ensuring the request is well-supported is critical to its approval, but equally important is first consulting with a divorce attorney about the appropriateness of asking for an examination.
Getting the help you need from a skilled Barrington family law attorney during the difficult divorce process is critical to emerging on a solid foundation as you enter a new phase of life. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. has years of experience helping families through complex and difficult divorces, including those related to mental health issues. Moreover, Attorney Richardson knows how to approach these cases so that the experience for the client is as easy as possible. If you live in Palatine, Barrington, Rolling Meadows or the surrounding area, contact the office for a free initial consultation.