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Divorcing a Spouse Who Has a Mental Illness

Going through a divorce is difficult under any circumstances. If your spouse is suffering from a mental illness, both the time period leading up to the divorce and the divorce process itself can be extremely challenging. It also increases the likelihood that your divorce will turn adversarial at some point. A Murfreesboro divorce attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains what you need to know if you are divorcing a spouse who has a mental illness.Murfreesboro criminal defense attorney

Marriage and Mental Illness

Being married to a spouse who is suffering from a mental illness is trying at best—and dangerous at worst. “Mental illness” covers a wide range of conditions, some of which present with very few telltale signs while others are obvious to an untrained observer. Moreover, many mental illnesses do not develop until later in life and/or the symptoms become more severe if left untreated. Consequently, you might have married your spouse without knowing that he/she suffers from a mental illness or the mental illness may have not existed at the time of your marriage. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (51.5 million in 2019). Mental illnesses include many different conditions that vary in degree of severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe. The NIMH broadly divides mental illness into two categories:

  • Any Mental Illness. Any mental illness (AMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. AMI can vary in impact, ranging from no impairment to mild, moderate, and even severe impairment (e.g., individuals with serious mental illness as defined below).
  • Serious Mental Illness. Serious mental illness (SMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. The burden of mental illnesses is particularly concentrated among those who experience disability due to SMI.

Divorcing a Spouse with a Mental Illness

Although most mental illnesses are treatable, they cannot all be “cured.” Instead, many people who suffer from a mental illness can only manage their symptoms with counseling and/or medications. Even when a spouse remains vigilant regarding treatment, a mental illness can but strain on a marriage. If a spouse refuses to seek help for a mental illness it can devastate a marriage. Either way, when a spouse is suffering from a mental illness it often makes navigating the divorce process more difficult for several reasons, including:

  • Negotiating.  The very nature of many mental illnesses can make it much more difficult to negotiate the terms of a divorce. Depending on the severity of your spouse’s mental illness, he/she may not be capable of thinking rationally or even entering into a voluntary agreement. Consequently, the likelihood of a contentious divorce may increase dramatically. 
  • Custody.  If there are minor children of the marriage, a custody battle with a spouse suffering from a mental illness can be costly – both in terms of time and money. A mental illness alone does not make a parent unfit to have custody of his/her children; however, if a parent refuses to accept treatment and the symptoms interfere with the children’s safety and security a mental illness can impact a judge’s decision regarding custody.
  • Child/spousal support.  A mental illness can rise to the level of a permanent disability which may impact a party’s ability to earn an income post-divorce. That, in turn, can 
  • impact the amount of child and/or alimony that the other party is ordered to pay in a divorce.

Contact a Murfreesboro Divorce Attorney

If you are contemplating a divorce and your spouse is suffering from a mental illness, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Murfreesboro divorce attorney to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Dinah Michael