Mental Illness and Divorce
Mental health issues can impose great challenges upon all members of a family. Between spouses, mental illness can influence one party to petition for divorce and seek a particular child custody arrangement. Divorce and ancillary matters with a mentally ill or incapacitated spouse can be complex. Experienced legal counsel should be able to navigate you through this complicated process.
Pennsylvania Divorce and Mental Illness Lawyer
If you are seeking a divorce from a mentally ill spouse, the attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices can assist you with this process. The experienced attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices use the team approach to when representing you in divorce, child custody, and other related matters. Using the team approach, the attorneys will use their combined knowledge to achieve the best arrangement for you and your family.
Call (610) 692-8700 or send an online message for a free consultation so we can act as soon as possible. We are based in West Chester PA and serve clients throughout Chester County, Lancaster County and suburban Philadelphia including West Chester, Kennett Square, Oxford, Avondale, Landenberg, West Grove, Paoli, Malvern, Downingtown, Coatesville, Exton, Parkesburg, Berwyn and Devon. We have convenient meeting locations in Lancaster, Philadelphia, Plymouth Meeting, Kennett Square, Malvern, Springfield, King of Prussia, and Radnor. Our family lawyers serve those with immediate legal needs in Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County and Lancaster County.
Chester County Mental Illness and Divorce Resource Center
- Can I divorce a mentally ill or incapacitated spouse?
- How does mental illness affect child custody?
- How does mental illness affect alimony?
- Where can I learn more about mental illness and divorce?
Spouses divorce for a plethora of reasons; including adultery, abandonment, and irreconcilable differences. Pennsylvania permits both at-fault and no-fault divorces. Under a no-fault divorce, the parties are not required to the court a specific reason for the breakdown of the marriage. The petitioning party must only prove that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”.
With a no-fault divorce, either one or both parties may consent to the divorce. If both parties want to terminate the marriage, the parties can file an affidavit consenting to the divorce. After 90 days of filing the affidavit the court may grant the divorce. If only one party seeks the divorce the parties must live separate and apart for two years before the court will grant the divorce.
In the case of a mentally ill or incapacitated spouse, the mentally ill spouse generally does not have the legal capacity to consent to the divorce. Pennsylvania law permits a court to grant a no-fault divorce if one of the spouses has been institutionalized in a mental care facility for at least 18 months, and if there is no reason to believe the spouse will be released from care in the next 18 months.
In order to preserve and protect the mentally ill spouse’s interest in a divorce action, a guardian or conservator must be appointed. The guardian or conservator will act on behalf of the mentally ill spouse regarding all relevant matters, including distribution of assets, alimony, child custody, and child support.
Divorce actions with a mentally ill or incapacitated spouse require knowledgeable and skilled legal counsel. Each proceeding is considerably unique because the extent of a party’s mental illness varies by case. The court will consider the deficiencies or challenges of the mental illness, the long-term outlook or prognosis of the illness, and mentally ill spouse’s ability to care for his or herself and the children of the marriage when making decisions regarding support, child custody, and visitation.
Due to the complexity of these matters, it is highly recommended to consult a law firm with a team of attorneys who can dedicate considerable time and effort to your case. Depending on the facts of the case, it may be necessary to present expert witnesses and other detailed evidence to achieve the most desirable arrangement regarding the marital assets and affairs of the children.
Mental illness does not automatically bar a parent from having custody of the child. Like in any child custody matter, the court will grant any custody arrangement that is in the “best interest of the child”. The court considers many factors when determining the best interest of the child, including:
- Which party can better provide physical safeguards and supervision;
- Which party is more able to provide a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child, in a way that meets the child’s emotional needs;
- Which party is more able to provide a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child, in a way that meets the child’s emotional needs; and
- Which party is more able to provide a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child, in a way that meets the child’s emotional needs.
Whether the court will grant a particular custody arrangement depends greatly on the extent of the mental illness. For example, if a parent’s mental illness has proven to be controlled or suppressed with medication and the parent has continuously taken the medication as prescribed by the doctor, it is likely the court will grant a shared custody arrangement.
However, if the mentally ill parent has a history of erratic behavior and abandoning the former spouse and children, it is likely the court will not grant shared custody. The court may grant a supervised visitation as an alternative. The court is most concerned about the physical, emotional, and mental safety and stability of the minor child.
Mental illness does not exempt a spouse from alimony or spousal support obligations. Depending on the extent of the mental illness, either party may be obligated to pay. The court makes the same considerations in a divorce action with a mentally ill spouse regarding alimony as it would between any other spouses. The court considers several factors including, but not limited to:
- The income and earning capacity of each spouse;
- Each spouse’s age and physical, mental and emotional condition;
- The sources of income for each spouse, including benefits;
- Expectancies and inheritances for each spouse;
- The length of the marriage;
The severity of the mental illness is relevant because it affects the spouse’s ability to support his or herself and the former spouse. The judge will balance the needs and abilities of both spouses when determining whether alimony is necessary, the amount awarded, and duration.
If seeking alimony from a mentally ill spouse the healthy spouse must provide significant evidence why such support is warranted, including the mental illness does not affect the other spouse’s earning capacity and certain factors negatively affect the healthy spouse’s earning capacity.
For example, if a spouse has a mental illness that has never interfered with his or her ability to work and the healthy spouse has been a stay at home mom for the entire duration of the twenty year marriage, the court may determine the healthy spouse should be awarded alimony.
Handling any matter related to the divorce of a mentally ill spouse is complicated and challenging. Do not go at it alone. The team of attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices have extensive experience assisting spouses and family’s achieve the best arrangement regarding custody and support after a divorce.
National Alliance on Mental Illness: The National Alliance on Mental Illness or “NAMI” is the United States’ largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for millions of Americans with mental illness. NAMI provides support for individuals with mental illness, their spouses, and family members. NAMI has a local chapter. Information can be found here.
American Psychological Association: The American Psychological Association of the “APA” is a scientific and professional organization representing researchers, clinicians, and educators. The APA provides several resources, including academic publications on mental illness, recommended mental health professionals, and valuable tips on recognizing and coping with mental illness.
Mental Illness and Divorce Attorney in West Chester, PA
Divorce is tough on any family; however, mental illness can often heighten the distress. Allow the experienced attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices to prepare the best case for you and your family. With extensive experience in divorce, child custody, and support matters, the team of attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices will work together for the best result in your case.
We represent clients throughout West Chester, Downingtown, Coatesville, Lancaster, Lititz, Ephrata, Norristown, Villanova, King of Prussia, Media, Philadelphia, and surrounding areas. Call us today at Ciccarelli Law Offices or send an online message for a free consultation.