Navigating a Divorce with Mental Illness

Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. This month, organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America, and others come together to raise awareness of the struggles and realities of psychiatric health and illness. That makes it an excellent time to think about how psychiatric health can impact divorces.

If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who struggles with mental health, divorce can feel even harder than it already is. Here’s what you need to know about how mental health may impact your divorce and tips for keeping the process on track despite your struggles.

How Mental Illness Can Impact Divorce Proceedings

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20% of Americans have some form of mental illness. Approximately 52.9 million adults nationwide struggle with these issues in some way, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

Just like any other kind of disease, psychiatric illnesses come in a wide variety of forms, including:

  • Neurodivergences: These include psychological conditions such as ADHD and autism that are actually innate parts of someone’s brain, and may not always be a negative experience.
  • Mood disorders: These are conditions like bipolar disorder and depression, in which the patient can’t regulate their own mood.
  • Personality disorders: Conditions like borderline personality disorder occur when someone’s personality is shaped from a young age in a way that makes it difficult for them to achieve healthy relationships.
  • Psychotic disorders: Problems like schizophrenia can make it hard for sufferers to stay in touch with reality without proper medical support.
  • Trauma-related problems: PTSD and other trauma-based mental health issues can be debilitating, and anyone can develop them if exposed to the wrong circumstances.
  • Substance abuse: Addictions that impact someone’s life in a negative way but are too strong to easily break are considered mental disorders on par with any other.

Each of these concerns present their own struggles. Furthermore, people who experience one mental health issue are like to experience additional, “comorbid” conditions. For example, someone with PTSD may experience disordered moods or substance abuse problems, while someone with a personality disorder may also experience anxiety and depression.

Any of these issues can significantly impact divorce proceedings. When you’re struggling with a mental health concern, it makes every other part of your life more difficult, particularly complex bureaucratic issues such as a divorce. You may face difficulties like:

  • Struggling to schedule or attend important meetings
  • Issues with professional communication with your ex
  • Issues with presenting a professional face in court
  • Stigmas against psychiatric illness putting you at a disadvantage in court regarding child custody or alimony

How to Manage Your Divorce Despite Your Mental Illness

If you sometimes struggle with mental health, you probably already know how important it is to have a plan for handling stressful events. With the right strategies, you can get through the proceedings smoothly, regardless of how your mental health is doing.

1. Be Realistic About Your Abilities

If you’ve lived with your condition for a while, you probably have an idea about what you can reasonably accomplish in a given amount of time. Some things may be doable with a little extra effort, and other tasks may simply not be reasonable.

When you go into a divorce, you need to be realistic about what you can expect from yourself. Pushing yourself too hard will only make it harder for you to accomplish your goals by causing you to burn out. Do you best to determine what you can do on your own, then find a support team who can help you manage the rest.

2. Do As Much As Possible In Advance

Psychiatric illness symptoms can come and go. On days when you’re feeling balanced, try to get more done regarding your split. Turn in paperwork early, respond to any important communications, collect necessary documentation, and handle any other tasks that are coming up.

This advanced preparation can help you avoid missing important deadlines due to a flare up. The more you accomplish ahead of time, the less chance there is that a few bad days snowball into legal complications with your split.

3. Make Sure Your Doctor Is On Your Side

A critical element of managing any legal proceedings with a mental illness is making sure your doctor is on your side. This means:

  • If you attend therapy, ensure that your counsellor is respecting your right to confidentiality.
  • Don’t use the same therapist for your personal therapy and any couple’s counselling your attend to avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Find a psychiatrist who treats you like a person, not a number.

When your healthcare team supports you, it will be significantly easier to maintain any treatment you need throughout your divorce.

4. Get Qualified Legal Help

The other person you need on your side is an experienced lawyer. Regardless of your mental health, it’s unrealistic to expect to handle all the demands of a complicated divorce on your own. Having a qualified lawyer on your side can help you navigate the legal environment more effectively.

Your attorney can help you handle a variety of tasks. They’re there to handle the legal things that you don’t understand. That helps ensure that you don’t forget about important legal requirements. They can even act as a go-between for you and your spouse’s attorney.

Don’t Let Your Brain Ruin Your Life

Regardless of what type of psychiatric illness you experience, it shouldn’t control your life. You deserve to leave a bad marriage and regain the freedom you need to move forward. That’s true regardless of your mental health.

The best way to keep the process on track when you don’t always trust yourself is to have a team of experts on your side. Reach out to the qualified divorce lawyers at Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada, LLP, to get started. They can help you move your divorce forward and reduce the stress of trying to handle everything on your own. Most importantly, their support will help you get your split finalized without worrying about social stigmas impacting your results.

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