Are Mental Health Issues Considered Grounds for Divorce?

If your spouse was diagnosed with a mental illness, you know that managing the illness can be challenging, even if they are taking medication to control the symptoms. Depending on the diagnosis, and the severity of the illness, your spouse may need to take a combination of medications, which can cause a range of debilitating side effects. Oftentimes, people who suffer from serious mental health illnesses like bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia avoid taking their medication because of the way it makes them feel. Unfortunately, this can have devastating consequences on a marriage, particularly if your spouse is becoming unstable, or you believe that staying with your spouse could put you or your children in an unsafe situation. If you have made the difficult decision to proceed with a divorce, an experienced and compassionate divorce lawyer can assist you with the divorce process, including the unique factors that need to be considered when mental illness is cited as the grounds for the divorce.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 11 million adults experience serious mental health issues that have a significant impact on their daily life activities. Oftentimes, this can lead to the breakdown of a relationship or a marriage. While this is certainly devastating for the person suffering from the mental illness, it can also be extremely painful for family members and loved ones who feel powerless to help. Unfortunately, there are cases where the mental illness causes the person to become argumentative, erratic and even violent, particularly if the person is not taking the medication that has been prescribed to them. This can create a very unsettling, and potentially unsafe situation for the people closest to the individual who has a mental illness, including their spouse and children.

How Can Mental Illness Lead to Divorce?

Maintaining a healthy and productive marriage takes work and commitment. When one spouse suffers from a mental illness, it can put a significant strain on the relationship. The following are examples of the most common mental illnesses that lead to divorce:

  • Depression: It is common for people suffering with depression to withdraw from family, friends and loved ones. They may also become upset and angry for no apparent reason. Oftentimes, they take their anger out on the people closest to them. This puts a great deal of pressure on the spouse. In addition to having to care for a spouse who is suffering from a mental illness, the other spouse often must assume the parenting and household responsibilities as well.
  • Bipolar disorder: This is a serious mental illness that is characterized by extreme highs (“manic episodes”) and extreme depression. When a spouse is experiencing a manic episode, they may become hyperactive and even reckless, putting themself and others in potentially unsafe situations.
  • Substance abuse: Alcohol abuse is the most common type of substance abuse cited as the reasons for marital problems. Alcohol dependence can cause a range of problems, including financial issues, behavioral problems, and an increased risk for domestic violence.

Do I Need to Cite a Reason for My Divorce in New Jersey?

New Jersey is a no-fault state, which means that you do not need to provide a reason for your divorce other than citing irreconcilable differences. However, you do have the option of citing mental illness as the reason for your divorce. From a strategic standpoint, it is important that you have a general understanding of how this may impact the outcome of your divorce settlement. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be entitled to a larger percentage of the marital assets if your spouse’s mental health issues were responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. If you have questions or concerns about whether to pursue a no-fault divorce or cite mental health issues as the reason for your divorce, a skilled divorce lawyer can thoroughly review your case and recommend the best legal course of action.

What Impact Do Mental Health Issues Have on Spousal Support?

Depending on the specific circumstances of your spouse’s mental illness, it could increase or decrease the percentage of the marital property that you are awarded in the divorce. In some cases, a judge may award the mentally ill spouse with alimony if they are unable to complete their job responsibilities. However, if your spouse’s untreated mental illness is the reasons for your divorce, a judge may increase the amount of alimony or spousal support

How Does Mental Illness Impact Custody and Visitation?

When determining a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the children, a judge will consider a range of circumstances. While your spouse’s mental health issues will be factored into this decision, the judge will consider a range of other factors as well, including the following:

  • Your child’s age, specific needs, and developmental status
  • Your child’s relationship with you and your spouse
  • You and your spouse’s ability to provide a stable and loving home environment
  • You and your spouse’s age, and physical emotional health
  • Your child’s relationships with siblings and extended family members
  • Whether you or your spouse has a history of domestic violence
  • Other factors that may be relevant to the case

If your spouse’s mental illness is severe, it could impact the outcome of the custody agreement and parent visitation rights. For example, if your spouse’s mental illness prevents him or her from being able to meet your children’s basic physical and emotional needs, a judge may terminate parental rights. Other scenarios that may warrant a judge to terminate parental right include:

  • Your spouse’s mental illness is permanent
  • Your child has been placed out of your spouse’s care for a minimum of six months.
  • Attempts at reunification with your spouse have been unsuccessful.
  • It is determined that a termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child.

What Do I Need to Consider When Divorcing a Spouse with a Mental Illness?

Any time you are entering into divorce proceedings, there are a range of factors that you will need to address to reach the best possible outcome. This is particularly true when you are divorcing someone who is suffering from a mental illness. By keeping the following considerations in mind, you can prevent the situation from escalating and becoming contentious:

  • Be compassionate. While this is slowly starting to change, there is a stigma associated with mental illness, which is unfair to the person suffering from a mental illness. As that person’s spouse, it is important to show compassion when addressing the problem. Do not dismiss your spouse’s symptoms or dismiss your spouse’s behavior as “crazy.” Consider how you would want to be treated if you were the one dealing with a serious mental health issue.
  • Be patient. You may decide that you want to divorce your spouse the moment that they start to exhibit signs of a serious mental illness. However, if your spouse is already showing signs of distress, or other symptoms of a serious mental illness, it may not be the best course of action to move forward with a divorce the moment the idea crossed your mind. Think about how this will impact your spouse’s mental health, and what steps you can take to make the process as compassionate as possible while also ensuring that your own mental health is protected.
  • Consider spousal support arrangements. If your spouse’s mental illness is severe, they may not be able to hold down a job due to the symptoms of the illness, side effects from medications or other factors. If this is the case, you may have to financially support your spouse by making alimony payments. You may be eligible for alimony if your spouse’s mental illness was left untreated.
  • Do not be too hard on yourself. Oftentimes, people stay in an unhappy marriage because they feel guilty about leaving a spouse who has a mental illness. You can take steps to ensure that your spouse is getting the car that they need while also protecting your own mental health.
  • Do not deny parental rights. Unless it is determined by the court that your spouse is unfit to take care of the children, do not try to prevent your spouse from seeing the children because of their mental illness. If the custody agreement needs to be revised, your divorce lawyer can assist you with this process.

Somerville Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Assist Clients with Divorces Related to Mental Health Issues

If you wish to seek a divorce, contact the Somerville divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Our dedicated legal team will walk you through every step of the divorce process, address concerns you may have about alimony and child support and ensure that you reach the best possible outcome for your situation. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.