Before practicing law, I worked in the mental health field for many years. I’m well aware of how debilitating a severe and untreated mental health condition can be. Mental health and divorce are unfortunately not an uncommon combination. Mental health issues can impact divorce proceedings in multiple ways. The following are some typical examples.
Mental Health and Child Custody
Judges are only permitted to evaluate child custody based on what’s in the best interests of the child. One of the thirteen statutory factors for this includes the mental health of the parents. In order to count against a parent, it must be shown why that parent’s mental health issue works against the best interests of the child. The mere presence of a mental health issue is not enough to influence the custody analysis. If a parent has a mental health issue, it’s important to demonstrate that it’s being taken seriously and treated. This can include individual or group therapy. It also may include prescription medication compliance under the supervision of a psychiatrist or a psychiatric nurse practitioner. It’s important for the parent to demonstrate what he or she is doing regularly to keep the mental health issue from affecting the wellbeing of the child. A regular pattern showing an inability to control mental health symptoms could certainly count against that parent in a child custody dispute.
Mental Health and Child Support
Mental health issues may be considered a disabling condition which can impact a parent’s ability to find employment. Parental income influences child support calculations. Some divorces involve arguing over whether and to what extent a parent with a mental health issue can earn income for the purpose of providing child support to the other parent. Often experts, like doctors or vocational evaluators, are necessary to assist the court with these determinations.
Mental Health and Spousal Maintenance
Similar to the child support situation, mental health issues may also impact a spouse’s ability to work. In such a case, especially if the other spouse is earning a healthy income and the marriage is long-term, the spouse with the mental health condition may have a better argument for receiving spousal maintenance in a divorce. As in the child support situation, experts are often needed in these spousal maintenance disputes as well.