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How Does Mental Health Affect Divorce or Child Custody Proceedings


When a spouse or co-parent struggles with mental illness, it often affects relationships.  Sometimes mental health problems affect the relationship so much that it contributes to the collapse of the relationship.  When clients visit us, they often ask us how their mental illness or their spouse or co-parent’s behaviors will affect the divorce or child custody.

The goal of a divorce proceeding is to divide the parties’ assets and debts and to award spousal support, if applicable.  When doing so, spouses must reach an agreement, or the judge will decide the disputes.  When we meet with a spouse who wants to file for divorce, we spend time discussing the breakup of the marriage, including our client’s or the other spouse’s mental health struggles. 

How does mental health affect the property division or the award of spousal support?

When the court divides the marital property and debts or awards spousal support, the judge is required to review several factors. One of the factors, is a spouse’s conduct during the marriage.  A big question our attorneys discuss with their clients is whether a client’s or the client’s spouse’s mental illness affected their actions.  If a spouse is diagnosed with mental illness but can control his or her illness with medication, counseling, or other actions, then the illness will not affect the property division or a spousal support request.

When a spouse’s mental health ends up affecting his or her actions, then it is important to consider that it’s one of many factors that the judge will consider.

How does mental health affect a child custody award?

When a judge determines which parent is awarded custody of the children, the judge must review each party’s mental and physical health.  Caselaw provides that the judge must review how the parent’s lack of mental health affects the children.  For example, sometimes a depressed parent is unable to get out of bed to care for the children to get them to school on time, or a parent’s mental illness struggle may cause them to have angry outbursts.

Many clients visit us having a strong suspicion that the other parent struggles with mental illness, but our client is not aware of a diagnosis.  When this happens, our attorneys can assist with providing the evidence to the judge.  For example, our attorneys may use a custody evaluator and/or a forensic mental health expert to provide expert evidence and testimony.

When your spouse or other parent accuses you of mental health problems during the divorce, it is best to call our attorneys to build a defense as quickly as possible.  We can limit or eliminate the damage when our attorneys have sufficient time to build a defense.  Likewise, when you believe that your spouse’s mental illness caused the breakup of the marriage, or the other parent’s poor mental health is negatively affecting the children, our attorney can assist with presenting the evidence to the judge in child custody proceedings.  Give us a call at 616-285-0808 to discuss your best options.