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Why It’s Important To Understand How Mental Health Impacts A Divorce

One of the reasons that it is so important to understand how mental health impacts a divorce is because this is when it is commonplace for people to be at their lowest just as the stakes are highest.

Ending a marriage or a relationship may cause any person, even if they do not suffer from a diagnosed mental disorder, to become distressed, depressed, or abnormally anxious for a significant period of time. If you add this stress to a person who already suffers from a mental illness, they may react in a range of ways, some of which will likely negatively impact their case, either temporarily or permanently. For instance, a clinically depressed party, without proper treatment, may start to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, causing the other parent to point out their sudden shift in behavior, using their consumption as justification to limit that parent’s time with his or her children. This result may further exacerbate and prolong a problem that was situational and temporary.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for litigants to throw around terms like “psychopath”, “unstable”, “crazy”, or “bipolar”, even when there is little in that person’s history or behavioral patterns to support such a description. People are understandably emotional and upset once they get into a family law case, but these labels are frequently used without medical merit. And when, as litigants they use these descriptions of their spouse or ex-spouse, they are usually incorporated with the intent to paint the exes as abusers, unfit parents, or both.

Ironically, in cases where one or both parties have actually been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, those parties rarely reference it in their pleadings and judges will rarely come to know that mental illness is a factor in the case. Oftentimes litigants seek that their spouse or former spouse undergo a mental health evaluation just so they can plant a seed of concern about their opponent’s ability to parent in the judge’s mind.

This can trigger unnecessary animosity between parties, prolong cases, and deflect from the most important issues in a case.

Fortunately, there has been a shift in how family law attorneys and judges approach the topic of mental health. Attorneys are better in understanding when their clients may be suffering from a mental disorder even though clients will not voluntarily confirm it, or even know they are likely suffering from a diagnosable and treatable condition.

Additionally, societal efforts to lessen the stigma around mental illness have enabled clients to be more willing to participate in individual therapy, co-parenting counseling and reunification therapy, or seek other professional behavioral help for themselves or their children when they agree that would benefit them or their children. There is also more widespread openness among family law attorneys to encourage their clients to seek professional assistance, even when they can be concerned about how receiving such help may make their clients look.

But more needs to be done to help family law cases progress in the most appropriate manner for clients with mental illness issues. The shortcomings of family law practice and litigation in preserving the interests of those with mental health disorders seem to stem, at least partially, from a lack of understanding of the nature of chronic mental illness, the ways such illnesses can manifest, and what can aggravate their symptoms.

One in five people in the United States Suffers from a mental illness. This means that many litigants, attorneys, and judges that preside over these cases have experienced, or know someone who has experienced mental illness. Taking the initiative to educate ourselves about mental illness will go a long way towards understanding how to better counsel clients in crisis and will allow us to better discern when litigants are using someone’s plight to further their strategic interests.

The attorneys at Pacific Cascade Legal are continually making an effort to better understand the impact of mental health on family law clients and case outcomes, and are committed to providing representation and strategic resolutions that takes these impacts into account.

To set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office today at (503) 227-0200.