According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 51.5 million U.S. adults (one in five) live with a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression as of 2019. This means that a mental health issue, such as bipolar disorder, coming to light during a marriage is not uncommon.
In New Jersey, almost 3.1% of adults suffer from a serious mental health condition. Unfortunately, a condition like bipolar disorder can contribute significantly to the strain on a marriage—sometimes to the point where it’s impossible for the spouse or the person suffering from bipolar disorder to continue the relationship. In this case, it is essential to know the steps involved in divorcing a bipolar spouse.
How to Divorce a Bipolar Spouse
A spouse’s mental health can be grounds for annulment or divorce under New Jersey law. Institutionalization for over 24 consecutive months constitutes legal grounds for divorce, while severe mental health problems can also be grounds for annulment, based on the understanding that the marriage was then never legitimate in the first place. Mostly, though, people agree to seek divorce through routine procedures, even if one spouse is dealing with a condition like bipolar disorder.
The first thing to do when divorcing a bipolar spouse is to secure an MSA (Marriage Settlement Agreement) to which both parties are consenting and cognizant signatories. This is the document that lays out the settlement at the end of the divorce. New Jersey law states that courts are required to enforce MSA’s that were entered into:
- With both parties fully informed
- With both parties represented by counsel
- Without evidence of coercion or other deception
- With complete and fair financial disclosure of all assets and accounts
- With clear terms of the agreement
As the spouse suffering from bipolar disorder is required to be capable of undertaking the agreement under these terms and is ascertained to be as such by council, it is unlikely that an MSA can be challenged on the grounds of unfitness. Assurances can also be obtained that the mentally ill spouse does not feel coerced into filing for divorce.
Child Custody in Divorces Involving a Bipolar Parent
Divorces, unfortunately, also often entail custody disputes, including if a voluntary mutual agreement is not possible between the spouses regarding a bipolar parent and child custody. New Jersey courts commonly make custody decisions based on their assessment of the child’s best interests under the circumstances.
New Jersey law specifies that a range of factors need to be considered in any decision regarding custody or visitation rights, some of which can be influenced by a parent’s mental health condition. The main factors are:
- The needs of the child
- The stability and security of the home environment, including the child’s safety
- The fitness of each parent to raise and spend time with the child
- The parent’s ability to communicate and agree to cooperate in matters related to the raising of the child
- Where the child is of sufficient age, the child’s preferences
Bipolar disorder, especially when left untreated, could directly impact all aspects of the custody decision. Restrictions may also be placed on how a parent spends time with the child, or the court may mandate supervised visitation.
New Jersey Attorneys Can Help With Divorce Settlements
Every situation is different depending on the specific circumstances of divorcing a bipolar spouse. Whether the spouse is receiving treatment for the condition, whether the spouses are seeking joint custody or not, and a host of other factors all come into consideration. Contact Lyons & Associates, P.C., New Jersey family law and divorce lawyers, for a free consultation today if you are considering divorcing a bipolar spouse.