Mental Health Disability and Divorce
Managing mental health issues can be challenging enough under everyday stresses, but adding a divorce into the mix can be disastrous. If you are living with mental health issues, speak to your mental health provider about how the emotional strain of a divorce may impact your condition. There may be steps you can take or supportive services you can use that will provide you additional help in managing your condition. If you think you're headed for a divorce, make sure you're in compliance with your doctor's treatment recommendations. Once you get to court, missed appointments or unfilled prescriptions may become an issue.
There are many laws that protect people with mental health conditions from discrimination. Your lawyer should know if these laws are applicable in your case. Sometimes the judge will appoint a special lawyer, typically called a guardian ad litem, to make sure your mental health issues aren't used against you to gain an unfair advantage in court. This person has specialized knowledge regarding disabilities. Her role is to make sure that decisions regarding your financial and personal interests are made in good faith and in your best interests. You will still have your own lawyer, but you will also have a guardian ad litem to make sure you are treated fairly.
Custody and Mental Health
Just because you have a mental health condition doesn't mean you can't be successful in fighting for your children. While it may be terrifying to think that your entire mental health history is going to be displayed in open court for all to see, the end result may be worth it. If you have a mental health condition, it is quite likely that your spouse is going to bring it up during the divorce. While your spouse may have once been sensitive to your condition and understanding of the struggles you face, his lawyers may depict you as a crazy person who can't be left alone with your children. Careful planning with your lawyer will be necessary to effectively address these concerns.
The judge may want you to sign over your mental health records or even undergo a new mental health evaluation. While this is very invasive, it is probably the only way to overcome allegations that your mental health status impacts your ability to parent. Sometimes the judge will order a forensic evaluation, which will include both spouses and the children. This will typically be conducted by a psychologist. As part of this evaluation, the evaluator will review your mental health records, treatment history, and progress. The evaluator is also likely to call your treatment providers to speak with them about your progress, abilities, and limitations. She will meet with you personally and may conduct some written testing of her own to further assess both you and your spouse. After thoroughly analyzing your situation, the evaluator will submit a report to the court that may include recommendations about custody. This type of evaluation is common in many custody proceedings, not just in cases where someone's mental health status is questioned.
If your mental health condition is going to impact your ability to parent once divorced, be realistic and reasonable. Ask for parenting time that will allow you to spend quality time with your children while giving you the time you need to manage your mental health. A judge will appreciate the fact that you know your limitations and are able to balance your mental health condition and your parenting responsibilities. Be careful here because how you present yourself will definitely impact your success. Your lawyer should be able to help you develop a winning strategy.
While you may have to sign releases for your spouse or the court to get certain records, always consult with your lawyer before agreeing to release any records. A privilege may exist that allows you to object. Before exercising this privilege, you want to make sure that you are not going to negatively impact your case.
If you don't think you can do it on your own, put supports into place that will allow you to be able to spend as much time with your children as possible. For example, ask a family member or friend to help out during your parenting time. Try to build a better relationship with your ex if possible so the two of you can work together to accommodate your limitations. Children need to be with both parents. You don't have to let your mental health condition dictate your relationship with your children.