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“He’s Not Well”: Divorce When Your Spouse is Mentally Ill

“He’s Not Well”: Divorce When Your Spouse is Mentally Ill

The erratic, puzzling and sometimes reckless actions of singer Kanye West over the last several years led many to speculate about his mental health, as well as the health of his marriage to reality star Kim Kardashian West. When the divorce filing was announced late this year, it came almost a year after Kardashian West publicly addressed her husband’s reported bipolar disorder in an Instagram post. She described the condition as “incredibly complicated” and “painful… to understand,” and expressed the powerlessness of loved ones to compel psychiatric intervention.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences a mental illness at some point in a given year. 1 in 25 adults experiences a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. Researchers at Harvard Medical School say the pandemic has created a “mental health crisis” for many Americans, particularly frontline workers. The effects of this could linger long after the physical danger of the virus has passed.

As Freehold divorce attorneys, we have handled cases wherein mental illness was either the reason for divorce or one of several factors. It’s important for clients in this situation to understand how it might impact their family law case, and discuss each potential element in detail.

Mental Illness as a Cause for Divorce

New Jersey is a no-fault state, meaning it is not necessary to cite a cause for a divorce beyond irreconcilable differences. However, sometimes there are strategic reasons one may want to cite mental illness as a cause for divorce or annulment.

Per NJ Revised Statute 2A:34-2, the institutionalization of a spouse due to mental illness is grounds for divorce if it lasts for two years consecutively. Mental illness can also be used for the court to grant an annulment if the court finds one party did not have the capacity to consent to the marriage at the time of the marriage due to a mental health condition.

However, it is much more common to cite irreconcilable differences. Your divorce lawyer will be able to give you an idea of whether it is better in your situation to cite specific grounds for divorce or to simply use the blanket irreconcilable differences.

Impact of Mental Illness on Property Division, Support Payments

In New Jersey, divorce courts are responsible for decisions on division of marital property, alimony and child support payments. A person’s mental health can significantly influence how a court rules on these issues.

Courts in New Jersey will equitably divide property during a divorce, meaning the court will divvy up the property based on what the judge believes is fair. If one spouse is unable to work due to mental illness, the court may take that into consideration. The same is true for alimony and child support. The court will weigh a person’s mental health, ability to find employment and/or history of being supported by their spouse.

Because determinations of property and support can have a lasting impact on the finances of everyone involved, it is imperative to discuss your rights and best interests with your attorney. Courts historically have a tough time accurately assessing the severity of one’s mental health. That means it is possible either party could be subject to unfair treatment. An experienced divorce attorney can help ensure your financial rights and interests are protected.

Mental Illness and Child Custody

Child custody disputes are among the most ubiquitous in family law cases. Mental illness of a parent can be a critical consideration. Although it won’t necessarily prevent a parent from sharing legal custody or exercising parenting time, the child’s safety and well-being is going to be the paramount concern, per NJRS 9:2-4a. Lots of people with mental health struggles can still function and actively participate in their child’s life. They can even be the child’s primary caregiver. However, if the child’s physical or well-being may be jeopardized by the mental illness of a parent, that is going to be taken into careful consideration. Some factors that may be deemed especially relevant:

  • The stability of the home environment.
  • The child’s protection from abuse or domestic violence.
  • The fitness of each parent.
  • The quality and quantity of time the parent spent with the child prior to the separation.

Mental illness can inevitably play a role in these. Courts will usually do their best to preserve the parent-child bond, but might limit one parent’s role in decision-making or traveling with the child. In the case of safety concerns, courts may order parenting time to be supervised or be in public.

An Experienced Divorce Lawyer Can Help

New Jersey divorce cases that involve mental illness have the potential to be much more complicated than other cases. It might be necessary to present medical records or other complex evidence. We may even need to hire an expert witness to make sure the judge is fully aware of the issues in the case. Working with a divorce lawyer with some experience in these cases will help ensure your financial interests and parental rights are protected, and that the custody orders handed down are genuinely going to be in your child’s best interests.

Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.

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