Getting a divorce can be a very stressful process, and many people struggle with emotional issues related to the end of their marriages. This is understandable; ending a relationship that a person expected to last for the rest of their life can be difficult, no matter the circumstances. However, there are some cases where a divorce may involve more complex issues related to mental health. If either spouse has been diagnosed with a mental illness or is receiving treatment for psychological issues, this may affect how certain decisions are made during the divorce process. Divorcing parents may need to determine how these issues will affect decisions about child custody, and they may also need to address other mental health issues that affect their children.
In many cases, spouses are unsure about how to approach issues related to mental health during their divorce. This can be an especially important issue to deal with if a person is concerned about the safety of themselves or their children. The attorneys of Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC can work with divorcing spouses to determine the best ways to address their concerns. We make sure our clients understand the laws that apply to them, the options for requesting any evaluations that may be necessary, and the protections that may be put in place. Our goal is to help divorcing spouses protect their rights and interests and create solutions that will allow them and their families to move forward successfully after they end their marriages.
Mental Health Evaluations in Child Custody Cases
While mental health issues will not always be a factor in divorce proceedings, they can be an important issue to address in cases where spouses will need to resolve child-related issues. The specific condition(s) that a parent has been diagnosed with, the types of treatment they are receiving, and their ability to make parenting decisions and provide the necessary care for children may affect the decisions made about the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time.
Some concerns related to mental health that may arise in divorce and child custody cases include:
Mental illnesses that affect a person’s parenting ability – A parent may be concerned about how their spouse’s condition will affect their ability to care for their children properly. For example, a parent who suffers from clinical depression may struggle to complete parenting duties or household tasks, and they may not be able to provide for children’s needs fully. If a parent has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, their former partner may be concerned that they will engage in erratic or risky behavior that could put their children in danger. In cases where a parent struggles with anger issues, the other parent may be worried that their children may experience or be exposed to physical or verbal abuse.
Substance abuse – When a parent struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, they may not be able to provide the proper care for their children. In many cases, an addict will focus on their own needs and desires as they pursue their addiction, causing them to neglect their family responsibilities. A parent may also be concerned about their children’s safety since the other parent’s use of drugs or alcohol could put children at risk of harm due to issues such as intoxicated driving or lack of supervision. Children may also be exposed to alcohol or drugs while in a parent’s care, or the other parent may be concerned that children will be placed at risk due to an addict’s association with dangerous people such as drug dealers or convicted criminals.
Parental alienation – Certain types of personality disorders, such as narcissism, may lead a person to become combative during the divorce process, and they may seek to “win” at all costs. In these situations, a parent may attempt to use their children against their spouse out of the hope that they receive primary custody or out of a desire to hurt their former partner. A parent may attempt multiple types of alienation, such as by blaming the other parent for the divorce, convincing children that the other parent does not love them or want to spend time with them, asking children to spy on the other parent, or attempting to restrict children’s ability to spend time with the other parent’s extended family members. Parental alienation is a form of abuse, and it can cause a great deal of emotional harm to children.
If a parent is concerned about these or other issues, they may request a mental health evaluation. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 215 allows judges in family law cases to order physical and mental examinations of the parties if they believe that these types of examinations are necessary. A parent who believes that psychological issues will play a significant role in the decisions made in their case may ask for examinations to be performed. However, a person will generally need to have a good reason to request an evaluation, such as a diagnosis showing that a parent has a mental illness, previous hospitalizations for mental health issues, a person’s history of treatment (including psychiatric care or the use of medications), or instances of domestic violence or substance abuse. The person who requests a psychological evaluation will typically be required to pay all expenses related to any required examinations.
Multiple types of mental health professionals may be involved in an evaluation, including psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers. An examination may involve interviews with both parties and their children, and professionals will seek to gain a full understanding of the mental health issues that may affect a person, the types of treatment they are receiving, their ability to perform parenting duties, and any safety issues that may affect the parties or their children. Multiple types of tests may be performed to evaluate a person’s mental state, their relationship with their children, and their parenting abilities. The evaluator(s) will then present a report to the judge with their findings. A report may include a diagnosis of a person’s condition and conclusions about whether they will be able to care for children effectively or whether there are any issues that may put children at risk of harm.
In some cases, a judge may appoint a guardian ad litem or other child custody evaluators instead of or in addition to ordering psychological examinations. A guardian ad litem is an attorney who will advocate for the best interests of the children during a child custody case. A guardian ad litem or other child custody evaluators may perform interviews with the parties and their children, review records of medical or psychological treatment, and obtain other information to help determine whether mental health issues will affect either parent’s ability to provide care for their children. An evaluator will provide recommendations to the judge about how matters related to child custody may be handled, and the judge will consider their opinions when making decisions about how parents will share parental responsibilities, how parenting time will be divided, and whether any restrictions will be appropriate.
Mental Health Issues Affecting Children
In some cases, parents may need to determine how to address their children’s mental health. Children who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses may have extraordinary health needs, and parents will not only need to ensure that children receive the proper treatment, but they will want to make sure both parents will have the ability to provide the necessary care. This can be a significant concern in cases where children have conditions such as autism, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, or other diagnoses that affect their psychological health and well-being.
When addressing child custody in these cases, parents may agree to work together to make decisions about the types of care their children will receive, or the responsibility for making medical decisions may be primarily or solely allocated to the parent who has handled these issues during the parties’ marriage. Parents will also need to make sure they will each be able to provide for children’s needs during their parenting time, and they may need to make arrangements to ensure that they will have the necessary resources to address any mental health issues that will affect their children while they are in each parent’s care.
If children have extraordinary health needs, parents may need to determine how they will divide the costs of any necessary medical care. Child support orders may address this issue by specifying the amount that each parent will contribute to medical expenses or any other costs related to a child’s mental health needs. In some cases, a judge may order the parents to create a support trust in which joint or separate assets will be set aside and used to provide for a child’s needs.
Other Divorce-Related Issues That May Be Affected by a Spouse’s Mental Health
Mental health issues affecting either spouse may also play a role in a variety of non-child-related issues during a couple’s divorce. In some cases, concerns related to mental health may be raised when dividing marital property, or a spouse with a mental illness may believe that they should receive spousal support.
Dissipation of marital assets may be a concern in situations where a spouse has a mental illness. Certain types of conditions, such as bipolar disorder, may lead a person to behave erratically and destroy marital property or spend money for purposes unrelated to a couple’s marriage. To address this issue, a person may ask for a temporary financial restraining order to be put in place during the divorce process, preventing their spouse from wasting marital funds or disposing of jointly-owned property. If a spouse has already dissipated certain assets, the other spouse may ask that they be required to reimburse the marital estate for the money or assets that were wasted.
Spouses will also need to understand whether spousal maintenance will be a factor in their divorce. In some cases, a spouse who suffers from a mental illness may have been unable to work full-time during the couple’s marriage, and they may have relied on the other spouse to provide for their needs and ensure that they received psychological or psychiatric treatment. To make sure they will be able to maintain their standard of living, continue receiving treatment, and meet their ongoing needs, a spouse with a mental illness may ask for spousal support to be paid following their divorce. While multiple factors may play a role in decisions about whether maintenance will be paid, a judge will consider each party’s needs, whether a spouse is able to make ongoing payments, and whether the other spouse will be able to take steps to become self-supporting.
Contact Our Elmhurst Divorce and Mental Health Lawyers
If you have questions about how issues related to mental health will affect your divorce, our firm can help you understand how the laws apply to you and how you can protect your rights and address your concerns. We will advise you on how to approach mental illnesses as you address child custody and when these issues may play a role in other divorce-related decisions. For legal help with these matters, contact our DuPage County complex divorce attorneys at 312-605-4041.