Mental illness can affect all aspects of a divorce. For some couples, a spouse’s condition can be the grounds for the divorce; for others, mental illness could lead one spouse to fear for his or her safety, or the safety of the children. The topic itself is difficult to discuss, but it is necessary to do so. According to Resources to Recover, approximately 3.3% of all adults in Maryland are diagnosed with some kind of severe mental illness or disorder, yet only about 56.8% receive some form of treatment.
For people whose spouses suffer from conditions like schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, paranoia, or anxiety, the fear that filing for divorce could trigger their spouses is very real. For people who have these conditions, the fear that their spouses will try to use their health against them in order to gain custody of the children or the family home is also very real.
This is why, if you choose to file for divorce, you need experienced representation. You will also need a strong support system – not only from your friends and loved ones but also from your divorce attorney. Our clients reap the benefits of our services not only in regard to the process but also in the resources and tools we can provide. Whether you are living with a mental illness or living with someone who has a mental illness, Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC can help.
What happens if it is the child who suffers?
This is one of the more difficult, and delicate, situations that parents face. If you and your spouse are planning to divorce, and you have a child who suffers from mental illness, it can affect how you inform your child, how you choose to handle custody, and how you decide to seek medical care. Children are often ill-equipped to deal with the effects of their own illnesses, and we know that this can add an extra burden.
Remember that in the end, the judge will do what is best for your child. If you and your spouse cannot make those determinations on your own, the judge will do it for you. In some cases, it may be necessary to arrange for the appointment of a guardian, or the Best Interest Attorney, to protect your child’s rights and future.
Should you seek an annulment?
If you wish to separate from a spouse with mental illness, divorce is not your only option. An annulment means that a marriage was never valid. Where divorce ends a marriage, an annulment makes it as though the marriage never happened in the first place.
Annulments are sometimes sought on religious grounds, but they are not the only grounds. Marriages in Maryland can be considered void if the other party was legally insane or mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage.
Seeking divorce when your spouse has a mental illness
In Maryland, you can seek a divorce on the grounds of insanity. A party claiming a spouse is “insane” must show, according to the Maryland Code, all three of the following:
- Confinement “in a mental institution, hospital, or other similar institution for at least 3 years before the filing of the application for divorce.”
- A court can “determine from the testimony of at least 2 physicians who are competent in psychiatry that the insanity is incurable and there is no hope of recovery.”
- That one of the parties has been a resident of Maryland for at least two years before the filing of the application for divorce.
How mental health affects issues of custody
Family courts in Maryland consider many different factors when deciding which parent should have legal or physical custody. The legal standard is “the best interests of the child.” Some of the mental health factors courts consider include:
- The mental, emotional, and physical health of the parents.
- The ability of each parent to provide a home and financial stability of the child.
- Any history of abuse, prior arrest, or violence.
Generally, courts will tolerate moderate use of alcohol. If the user shows signs of addiction, then a parent may lose his or her custodial rights, especially if such addiction is impairing the parent’s ability to care for the child. Mental health issues could also affect the rights of a parent who wishes to relocate to another state if the parent has been court-ordered to receive treatment.
Will mental illness affect spousal support?
Alimony is designed to help one spouse maintain a certain quality of life. If you or your spouse is unable to work because of mental illness, a judge may award spousal support to help you (or your spouse). In some cases, it may be transitional – but this is one of those rare times when a judge may award indefinite alimony to one party.
At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC, we understand that mental illness can affect every part of the divorce process. Our Annapolis divorce attorneys have the experience, resources, and compassion to help you through this difficult time. To reserve a consultation, please call 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.