Once upon a time, the only role mental health played in divorce, was if you had to secretly ferret away an embarrassing spouse in the middle of the night, just to keep them from tarnishing the family name.
Fortunately, most of society has moved past those archaic notions.
These days, mental health is talked about openly, both online and in person, by medical experts, lawmakers, celebrities, and friends, alike. But while we’ve come a long way from the whole ‘shuttling opinionated women off to an insane asylum’ method of treatment, there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding mental health and divorce, and what role the former plays in securing a split.
Whether you are dealing with a mentally ill spouse, or are struggling to cope with your own mental health issues, it’s important to know how lawmakers address these matters, during a divorce.
In this article, we’ll introduce some of the most common areas of concern that arise with mental health and divorce, and discuss how these things might affect your upcoming split.
Mental Health and Divorce
Mental health is a huge topic for divorce. Whether it’s an issue you’ve been dealing with for a while or something triggered by the rigors of this process, there’s room for everyone in these discussions.
Often, one of the biggest concerns people have is whether or not mental health problems—on either side of the aisle—will prevent them from filing for divorce in the first place. And the answer is: no.
While insanity is a legitimate defense in a criminal case, family law falls under civil court, and hence, operates by a different set of rules. And over here, Texas courts will not make you stay married to someone you don’t want to—even if mental illness is involved.
That being said, these issues can still play a pretty key role in shaping your final divorce order, including areas like property, alimony, and child support. Read on for more!
Mental Health and Divorce Orders
First off, as a general rule, mental health doesn’t usually have a direct effect on a judge’s decision in any one area. That being said, an underlying mental illness can certainly play an indirect role in how matters are settled.
In this regard, the biggest questions that often arise revolve around how mental illness will affect:
- The division of marital property.
- The assignment of alimony.
- The decisions about custody and visitation.
- The requirements of child support.
- The protection of parental rights.
Out of all of these major questions, child custody is probably the one that’s most likely to be impacted by mental illness. Here’s why.
Mental Health and Child Custody
Texas courts have long held that a child’s best interest includes having a relationship with both parents whenever possible. However, that caveat assumes that a parent is, in fact, in a child’s best interest.
Where symptoms of deteriorating mental health are severe enough, they could potentially have an impact on a child’s overall health and wellbeing. Especially if the symptoms result in harm, neglect, or abuse (whether intentional or unintentional). Meaning that custody can (and does) get impacted by mental health.
The Effect of Mental Health on Grounds for Divorce
Similar to child custody, it’s unlikely that mental health will directly impact decisions about property or alimony. However, it may play an indirect role in these areas, especially if one spouse decides to file for divorce under fault-based grounds.
Fault divorces essentially allow a judge to assign guilt to one spouse for causing the marital breakup, and to attach financial consequences according to that culpability.
Texas is one of the few remaining states that still allows for these types of splits, and while there’s no one bullet point for a fault-based mental illness, the effects of such a condition could likely fall under one of several of fault grounds, including:
- Felony conviction; or,
Hence, if the symptoms are bad enough, mental health could be enough to indirectly trigger a fault-based divorce.
Why File for a Fault-Based Divorce?
A successful fault-based claim can have a serious impact on the division of property and alimony. If a judge supports your grounds, you may be entitled to a greater share of marital assets, or receive a higher amount of spousal support. Which are both good reasons to consider filing this way.
That being said, just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. Fault divorces are incredibly messy, toxic, expensive, and take a long time to litigate. Hence, sometimes it’s best to simply file for a no-fault spit.
Mental Illness and No-Fault Grounds
In Texas, there are three different grounds for obtaining a “no-fault” divorce, the most popular being on the grounds of “insupportability” (which is basically just Texas’s version of “irreconcilable differences”).
For some couples, “confinement to a mental hospital” might also be another viable, no-fault mental health option (though, obviously, certain requirements must be met).
Your attorney can discuss these various options with you, and help determine which grounds are right for you.
Protecting Your Mental Health During Divorce
Divorce is stressful. It’s heartbreaking, infuriating, confusing, and just plain frustrating, and with all these competing emotions, even those who enter the fray with a fairly balanced inner mind are putting themselves at risk.
In other words: mental health and divorce isn’t something that affects only the people who have prior conditions.
From a spiral down into depression, to severe anxiety, filing for divorce is full of internal triggers that could cause a mental health crisis in anyone. Hence, not only is this something you should take stock of at the beginning of your divorce, but something you should be constantly monitoring throughout the process.
In addition to yourself, be sure to pay attention to your child’s emotional health, as well as your spouse’s. While it’s not your job to fix their issues, it’s important to be aware of any additional dangers that might exist, as a result of the added stress.
Consider an Alternative Method of Divorce
Divorce doesn’t have to be all gavels and judges—in fact, it’s estimated that over 90% of divorces never see the inside of a courtroom.
There are a myriad of benefits to choosing an alternative method of dispute resolution, not the least of which is that it’s a less toxic environment to navigate than traditional litigation. Hence, if mental health is a concern, this could be a good choice for you.
Some of the alternative options available in Texas include: uncontested divorce, divorce mediation, and collaborative divorce. While Texas does not officially recognize legal separation, similar results can be achieved by drafting the right documents.
If you are interested in legal separation, or in a different type of divorce, it’s worth talking through options with your trusty family law attorney.
Mental Health Divorce Attorneys in Texas
In our modern era, mental health is no longer a taboo subject that’s casually shoved under the rug whenever company comes over. These issues are real, and often have a big impact on couples getting divorced.
If you have more questions about mental health and divorce, we want to hear from you. Call the Neal Ashmore team at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and together, we can help you navigate these important matters.