After years of turmoil and upset, Allison has finally made the decision that she needs to separate. Her husband, Andrew, has been repeatedly hospitalized due to his mental health issues. The combination of his outbursts of anger and his irresponsible spending has taken its toll on the marriage. Making the decision to pursue separation and eventually divorce was difficult for Allison given Andrew’s vulnerability, but Allison feels she can no longer tolerate the unpredictability, frequent suspicion, confrontation, and constant disputes over finances. But despite being clear about her decision, Allison is concerned that Andrew will not be able to engage constructively in the divorce process.
How can someone like Allison move forward in getting a divorce given these difficult circumstances?
- Practice patience: Although Allison may feel that she has been ready for a fresh start for many years, and may want to move forward promptly, Andrew likely feels abandoned by Allison, as well as threatened by the idea of being on his own. As a result, it may take Andrew longer to come to terms with the idea of separating and divorcing which, in turn, may impede Andrew’s ability to retain an attorney, collect documents and other information, or otherwise move forward in an efficient manner. This can be extremely infuriating to Allison. In any separation or divorce, patience is an important virtue but even more so when one spouse has mental health issues. Allison’s family law attorney can help her to develop realistic expectations for how long the process may take, and be patient with Andrew’s slower pace through the process.
- Think creatively about how to contain the damage: When mental health issues are present in a marriage, there is often collateral damage to family relationships and finances. These problems may worsen upon separation when the “stable” partner is no longer present on a daily basis. Allison and her attorney will need to strategize to ensure the children are safe and well cared for, to minimize the damage to Allison’s credit rating, and to preserve the family’s assets.
- Engage outside help: Separation and divorce are emotional events which can destabilize even the most functional parties. When one spouse has mental health issues, the amount of strong emotion being expressed is likely to increase. Bringing in a mental health professional to provide support and expertise can be a plus. The assistance of a financial advisor serving as a “neutral” can also facilitate a mastery of the numbers as well as an understanding of the various options available to address a particular issue.
- Try to keep the case in a settlement or collaborative posture: Coming to a mutual agreement is generally the most desirable end to the divorce process. Litigation will be expensive and stressful, and courts are limited in the relief they can grant. Focusing on a settlement process rather than resorting to litigation is likely to result in a better outcome for all members of the family unit.
If your spouse has mental health issues, you are not alone. Work with your family law attorney to formulate and implement a plan to make the most of your future.