Last Updated on July 6, 2023 by Benson Varghese
Divorce is difficult for everyone involved, but when a spouse is suffering from mental illness, it can be even more challenging. It’s important to understand how mental illness can affect divorce in Texas – emotionally, financially, and legally.
Mental illness can cause significant problems in any marriage. The spouse with the mental health issue may have difficulty communicating effectively or maintaining relationships with their spouse, children, or other family members. They may experience mood swings, changes in behavior, and difficulty with decision-making and stability. These issues can lead to conflict, which can be difficult to resolve and lead to divorce.
In this article, our experienced Fort Worth divorce attorneys explain the process of divorcing a mentally ill spouse in Texas and how mental health can affect child custody, property division, and child support. We will also answer some frequently asked questions about this difficult, but very important, family law matter.
Mental Illness and Grounds for Divorce in Texas
Texas is a no-fault divorce state, which means one spouse does not have to show the other did anything wrong to be granted a divorce. They can cite “insupportability,” which is just a fancy way of saying that the marriage has become insupportable due to conflict or discord and that the marriage can’t be repaired. Some people also refer to this as “irreconcilable differences.”
However, Texas does also recognize fault-based grounds for divorce, which can be found in Chapter 6 of the Texas Family Code and includes:
- Conviction of a Felony
- Living Apart
- Confinement in a Mental Hospital
As you can see, “mental illness” is not specifically listed as a grounds for divorce in Texas, however, it can be the root cause of an actual ground. For example, people suffering from mental illness may be convicted of a crime, exhibit cruel behavior, or be confined to a mental hospital.
If a judge grants a divorce based on one of these grounds, it can impact child custody, property division, and other matters. The spouse who proves the “ground” for divorce may receive a more favorable outcome, as the court has a reason to deviate from the standard equal division of marital property. Similarly, the court may consider the conduct of the at-fault spouse when determining spousal support and child custody arrangements.
That’s why if you a divorcing a mentally ill spouse in Texas, it may be beneficial to cite specific grounds for divorce. At the very least, it should be a discussion between you and your divorce attorney.
Confinement in a Mental Hospital and Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse in Texas
As mentioned, confinement in a state or private mental hospital is a possible grounds for divorce in Texas. According to Section 6.007 of the Texas the Texas Family Code, if a spouse has been confined in a mental hospital for at least three years and it appears that their mental disorder is of such a degree and nature that adjustment is unlikely or that, if adjustment occurs, a relapse is probable, a divorce may be granted based on this ground. This is also referred to as “insanity.”
To file for divorce based on confinement in a mental hospital in Texas, the following requirements must be met:
- The spouse has been confined in a mental hospital for at least three years;
- The mental disorder is of such a degree and nature that the spouse is unlikely to adjust to a normal life outside the hospital; and
- If the spouse does adjust, there’s a probability that they will relapse.
Obviously, if your spouse is currently confined in a mental institution, they can’t actively participate in the divorce process. But that doesn’t mean you can’t proceed with a divorce. The court will appoint an attorney ad litem to represent your spouse during this process.
Role of Attorney Ad Litem When Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse in Texas
Divorce can be a complicated and emotionally challenging process, even more so when one of the spouses has a mental illness. In the state of Texas, the law recognizes the importance of providing additional support and protection for the mentally ill spouse during the divorce process. One way to achieve this is through the appointment of an attorney ad litem. The appointment can be requested by the other spouse or initiated by the court itself.
An attorney ad litem is a court-appointed legal representative assigned to act in the best interests of a party who is unable to adequately represent themselves or their interests. The attorney ad litem’s primary responsibility is to ensure that the person they represent receives fair and just treatment during legal proceedings. This may involve advocating for appropriate support, resources, and arrangements, such as spousal maintenance, division of assets, and child custody or visitation rights.
The attorney ad litem is responsible for communicating with the court on behalf of the mentally ill spouse and relaying changes in the spouse’s condition, needs, or wishes. This helps the court to make informed decisions throughout the proceedings and ensures that the spouse’s unique needs and circumstances are taken into account.
Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse in Texas: Impact on Child Custody
Divorcing a spouse with mental illness can be challenging and emotional, especially when children are involved. When determining child custody arrangements, Texas courts prioritize the best interest of the child. This standard requires the court to consider various factors, including the child’s emotional and physical needs, stability, and the ability of each parent to provide a nurturing and safe environment.
A spouse’s mental illness can directly impact the court’s decision on child custody. If the mental illness is severe, it may result in the court granting sole custody to the other parent or implementing supervised visitation arrangements. Factors that the court may consider when evaluating the impact of a parent’s mental illness on child custody include:
- The severity of the mental illness
The court will evaluate the specific type and severity of the mental illness, including any history of hospitalization or psychiatric treatment.
- Stability and consistency
A parent with a mental illness may be seen as less stable and consistent in providing a secure environment for the child. The court may consider the parent’s history of employment, housing, and adherence to treatment plans.
- Risk of harm to the child
The court will assess whether the mentally ill parent poses a risk to the child’s physical or emotional well-being. This could include a history of violence, self-harm, or child neglect.
- The ability to meet the child’s needs
The court will evaluate the parent’s ability to care for the child and meet their emotional, physical, and educational needs.
- The child’s preference
Depending on the child’s age and maturity, the court may consider their preference when determining custody arrangements.
Divorcing a mentally ill spouse in Texas can be a complex process, and the impact on child custody cases can be significant. It is essential for both parties to work with experienced family law attorneys who can advocate for their rights and the best interests of the child.
Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse in Texas: Property Division
Texas is a community property state, which means marital assets are generally divided equally between spouses. However, divorcing a mentally ill spouse in Texas can have unique implications for property division. A spouse’s mental illness can influence the court’s decision on property division in several ways:
Needs of the Mentally Ill Spouse
The court may consider the needs of a mentally ill spouse when determining property division. For example, the mentally ill spouse may require additional financial support to cover medical expenses, therapy, or other mental health treatments. In such cases, the court may award a larger share of the marital property to the mentally ill spouse to help cover these expenses.
Mental illness can affect a spouse’s ability to maintain employment or earn a stable income. If the mentally ill spouse has a reduced earning capacity, the court may award them a larger share of the marital assets to compensate for this disparity.
Fault in the Breakup of the Marriage
Texas is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that a spouse does not need to prove fault to obtain a divorce. However, if the mental illness played a role in the breakup of the marriage, the court may consider this when dividing property. For example, if a spouse’s mental illness led to infidelity, substance abuse, or domestic violence, the court may award a larger share of the marital assets to the innocent spouse.
The Best Interest of the Children
If there are minor children involved, the court may consider their best interests when dividing property. This could include providing the primary custodial parent with the family home to maintain stability for the children or ensuring that the mentally ill spouse has sufficient resources to provide for the children’s needs during visitation.
While Texas courts generally aim for an equal division of assets, a spouse’s mental illness can impact the court’s decision on how to divide marital property fairly and equitably. It is crucial for both parties to consult with experienced family law attorneys who can help navigate the complexities of property division and advocate for their best interests during the divorce process.
Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse in Texas: Impact on Child Support and Spousal Support in Texas
In Texas, child support and spousal support (also known as alimony) are important aspects of divorce that may be affected by a spouse’s mental illness. We discuss each below:
Child support is a financial obligation paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to help cover the expenses associated with raising a child. Texas has specific guidelines for determining child support amounts based on the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of children being supported. When one spouse has a mental illness, it may affect their ability to work or earn a consistent income. This can impact the calculation of child support in the following ways:
Income Determination: If the mentally ill spouse’s income is irregular or difficult to predict, the court may need to consider alternative methods of calculating their income. This could include averaging the spouse’s income over a period or imputing income based on their earning potential.
Deviation from Guidelines: In certain circumstances, the court may deviate from the standard child support guidelines if it is in the best interest of the child. For example, if the mentally ill spouse has significant medical expenses related to their condition, the court may adjust the child support obligation to ensure that the spouse can meet their own needs as well as those of the child.
Mental Illness Does Not Exempt Child Support: It’s important to point out that, just because a spouse suffers from mental illness, it does not mean that they will be exempt from paying child support. The court may adjust the payment amount to accommodate any hardships, but both parents are responsible for providing financial support for their children until they reach adulthood. In some cases, the court may garnish a mentally ill parent’s disability or social security checks to pay child support.
Spousal support, also known as alimony or maintenance, is a financial payment made by one spouse to the other during or after a divorce. In Texas, spousal support is not automatically granted and must be requested by the spouse in need. The court will consider various factors to determine if spousal support is warranted, such as the duration of the marriage, the financial resources of each spouse, and the ability of the requesting spouse to meet their basic needs.
A spouse’s mental illness can impact spousal support decisions in the following ways:
Need for Support: If the mentally ill spouse requires financial assistance to cover medical treatment, therapy, or other mental health services, the court may consider this when determining the need for spousal support. Additionally, the court may take into account the spouse’s limited earning capacity due to their mental illness.
Duration of Support: Texas law sets limits on the duration of spousal support based on the length of the marriage. However, in cases where the mentally ill spouse is unable to become self-sufficient due to their condition, the court may extend the duration of spousal support to provide ongoing financial assistance.
Ability to Pay: The court will also consider the paying spouse’s ability to meet their own needs while providing support to the mentally ill spouse. If the paying spouse’s financial resources are limited, the court may adjust the spousal support amount accordingly.
Divorcing a mentally ill spouse in Texas can have a significant impact on child support and spousal support decisions. Both the ability to pay and the need for support can be affected by a spouse’s mental illness, and the court will carefully consider these factors when making support determinations. It is essential for both parties to consult with experienced family law attorneys who can guide them through the complex issues surrounding child support and spousal support in divorce cases involving mental illness.
Couples Dealing with Mental Illness are More Likely to Divorce
Couples dealing with mental illness may face a higher risk of divorce due to the unique challenges that mental health conditions can pose within a relationship. However, it is important to note that every couple’s experience will differ depending on various factors, including the type and severity of the mental illness, the availability of support and treatment, and the couple’s ability to communicate and cope with the challenges.
A study published in the JAMA Psychiatry Journal examined the risk of divorce among couples where one spouse was diagnosed with a serious mental illness. The study found that the risk of divorce was higher for couples dealing with certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. The authors of the study concluded that “mental illness is a significant predictor of marital dissolution.”
While this study provides evidence that couples dealing with mental illness may be at a higher risk of divorce, it is essential to recognize that many couples also successfully navigate the challenges of mental illness and maintain strong, supportive relationships. Access to mental health care, effective communication, and understanding from both partners can significantly impact the stability of a marriage involving mental illness.
Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse in Fort Worth? Contact Us.
Navigating a divorce with a mentally ill spouse can be complex and emotionally challenging. It’s essential to have skilled, compassionate legal representation throughout the process to ensure the best outcome and a fair resolution for all parties involved.
The Fort Worth attorneys at Varghese Summersett Family Law Group have vast experience handling divorcing cases involving mental illness and can help you understand all of your rights and options. Contact us today at (817) 900-3220 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation.
FAQs About Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse in Texas
Yes, you can divorce a mentally ill spouse in Texas. You can use either no-fault grounds, such as insupportability, or fault-based grounds, like cruelty, conviction of a felony, or confinement in a mental hospital.
The process for obtaining a divorce in Texas is generally the same, whether or not one spouse is mentally ill. Texas is a no-fault divorce state, which means that you do not need to prove wrongdoing or fault to obtain a divorce.
The most common ground for divorce in Texas is “insupportability,” which means the marriage has become insupportable due to discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marital relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.
However, there may be some additional considerations when dealing with a mentally ill spouse during a divorce:
Legal representation: If your spouse is mentally ill and unable to understand the legal proceedings or make decisions regarding the divorce, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem or an attorney ad litem to represent your spouse’s interests.
Competency: If your spouse is not competent to participate in the divorce proceedings, you may need to provide evidence of their mental illness and its effects on their ability to make decisions. This may involve obtaining medical records, testimony from mental health professionals, or other evidence.
Division of assets and debts: If your spouse’s mental illness has affected their ability to work or manage finances, this could impact the division of assets and debts during the divorce. The court will consider various factors when dividing property, including each spouse’s earning capacity, education, health, and the duration of the marriage.
Spousal support: If your spouse’s mental illness prevents them from supporting themselves financially, they may be eligible for spousal support (also known as alimony). The court will consider factors such as financial resources, education, employment skills, and the duration of the marriage when determining spousal support.
Child custody and visitation: If your spouse’s mental illness impacts their ability to care for your children, the court may consider this when determining child custody and visitation arrangements. The court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child, and they may consider factors such as the mental and physical health of each parent, the emotional ties between the child and each parent, and any history of abuse or neglect.
It is essential to consult with an attorney experienced in family law in Texas if you have specific questions or concerns about your situation. They can provide you with legal advice tailored to your circumstances and help guide you through the divorce process.
Divorce in Texas is a legal process that requires one spouse to file a petition with the court. If the respondent spouse suffers from a mental illness, it will be necessary to provide evidence of the condition, such as medical records, expert testimony, or affidavits from friends and family. The petitioner should work with an experienced family law attorney to ensure that the case is handled appropriately.
Mental illness, by itself, is not a direct ground for termination. However, if the mental illness causes the parent to be unable to provide a safe and stable environment for the child, or if it causes the parent to engage in conduct that endangers the physical or emotional well-being of the child, then the court may consider termination of parental rights. Section 161.001 of The Texas Family Code outlines the various grounds for termination of parental rights including:
- The parent has engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged in conduct which endangers the physical or emotional well-being of the child.
- The parent has failed to comply with a court order that specifically establishes the actions necessary for the parent to obtain the return of the child who has been in the permanent or temporary managing conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services for not less than nine months as a result of the child’s removal from the parent.
- The parent has been the cause of the child being born addicted to alcohol or a controlled substance, other than a controlled substance legally obtained by prescription.
- The parent has been convicted of certain offenses listed in the Family Code, which might include child abuse or neglect, or other crimes that may be related to the parent’s mental illness.
Keep in mind that the decision to terminate parental rights is a serious one and is generally considered a last resort. The court will typically consider the best interests of the child and may attempt to work with the parent to address the issues related to their mental illness, such as by ordering counseling, therapy, or other treatment programs.
Yes, you can request the court to appoint an attorney ad litem for your mentally ill spouse if you believe they cannot adequately represent themselves in the divorce proceedings.
How can I find a qualified divorce attorney in Fort Worth to help me with my case involving a mentally ill spouse?
Varghese Summersett Famlilyis a highly-regarded Fort Worth law firm with experienced divorce attorneys ready to help you with your case. Call us today at (817) 900-3220 or contact us online.