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Navigating Divorce with a Partner Struggling with Mental Illness

By December 17, 2023Divorce

Divorce is a challenging journey, and when mental illness is part of the equation, the difficulties can feel overwhelming. In the United States, the prevalence of mental health issues has become increasingly pronounced, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. In marriages that began with care and compassion, the signs of mental illness can cast a shadow, leaving partners grappling with difficult decisions.

Understanding Mental Illness in Marriages

Mental illness affects not only the individual but also the dynamics of a relationship. It can transform a once harmonious partnership into a terrain marked by uncertainty and emotional strain. Imagine a marriage that started with two caring individuals, both thoughtful and understanding. Over time, one partner begins to exhibit signs of mental health challenges. The empathetic foundation of the relationship is tested as symptoms like depression, anxiety, or other disorders emerge.

The Difficulty of Divorcing Someone with Mental Illness

Divorcing a partner facing mental health challenges is exceptionally challenging. Feelings of loss over the person they once knew, guilt for wanting to end the relationship, and worries about how their spouse will cope post-divorce all contribute to the emotional burden. This difficulty is compounded if there are children involved, adding layers of complexity to an already sensitive situation.

Seeking Help for Your Spouse

In the process of divorce, it’s essential to ensure that your spouse has access to the mental health support they need. Divorce can exacerbate mental health struggles, and a compassionate approach involves not only recognizing this but actively supporting your spouse in seeking appropriate help.

Impact of Mental Illness on Divorce Determinations

Mental illness can significantly impact divorce determinations, particularly in child custody, property division, and spousal support considerations. 

Child Custody

Courts will prioritize the best interests of the child, and if one parent’s mental health poses a potential risk, custody arrangements may be adjusted accordingly. 

It’s important to note that if a parent deals with a mild mental health issue like general anxiety or depression (whether tied to specific situations or general), and they’re handling it well without it affecting their parenting abilities, the court generally won’t let that impact their decision on custody arrangements. That parent may still become the primary custodian of the child.

Some key factors the court may look into when determining this decision include:

  • How stable the home is.
  • If the child is safe from abuse or domestic violence.
  • How fit each parent is.
  • How much time each parent spent with the child before the separation.
Property Division

In a Virginia divorce, the court divides property fairly, aiming for an equitable split. If one spouse can’t work due to mental illness, the court might consider this in the decision. They may award a bigger share of marital assets to the spouse with mental illness if the illnesskeeps them from working.

Spousal Support

Spousal support may also be influenced, depending on the severity of the mental health challenges.

If someone seeking alimony has a limitation in earning capacity due to a diagnosed mental illness, the court considers this when assessing their financial needs.

Guardianship: A Necessary Consideration

In some cases, a guardian ad litem may need to be appointed for a party duringthe divorce process, especially if a partner’s severe mental health impairment poses negates to their ability to make sound decisions. For example, if your spouse is institutionalized or imprisoned during the divorce process, they may not be able to adequately represent themselves and the court may appoint an attorney for them.

A guardian ad litem is someone chosen to make help represent a person who can’t do it themselves. Certain attorneys, known as ‘guardian ad litem,’ can act as legal guardians for those with mental incapacity. In such cases, the ‘guardian ad litem’ helps the court decisions in the best interest of the person with mental health issues.

The guardian ad litem doesn’t have to follow the exact wishes of their client. Instead, their role is to gather all available information and decide what’s in the person’s best interest, even if it goes against their client’s preferences.

In more extreme situations, a mental health problem may necessitate a similar-sounding legal process called “guardianship”, where the party is stripped of their legal rights and someone new is appointed to make decisions for them- you have have heard of this process with Brittney Spears.

Both of these options ensure that the individual receives proper care and support while navigating the complexities of divorce.

An Optimistic Outlook: Endings as New Beginnings

While divorcing a partner with mental illness is undoubtedly difficult, it’s important to recognize that it often comes after exhaustive attempts to find alternative solutions. It marks the end of one chapter but also the beginning of a new, potentially healthier one. Acknowledging this can foster a sense of optimism amid the challenges.

If you find yourself in the complex terrain of divorcing a partner with mental health challenges, it’s crucial to seek legal advice that understands the nuances of your situation. Empathy, sensitivity, and a deep understanding of the emotional complexities involved are vital in guiding you through this process.

Your Next Steps Matter

If you are considering or currently navigating divorce with a partner struggling with mental illness, remember that your well-being also matters. Seek legal counsel who not only comprehends the legal intricacies but also provides the compassionate support you need during this challenging time.

Taking the next steps may seem daunting, but it’s a crucial move toward a future that holds the promise of healing and growth. Consult with Slovensky Law to ensure your legal journey aligns with the unique complexities of divorcing a partner facing mental health challenges. Your path forward begins with compassionate guidance and informed decisions.

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