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  • John C. Whitbeck, Jr.


    John C. Whitbeck, Jr. practices in the following areas of law: Family Law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Mediation, Arbitration, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Criminal Law, DUI/DWI, Reckless Driving, All Felonies, All Misdemeanors, Juvenile Crimes, Mental Health Law, Civil and Business Litigation, Construction Litigation, Education Law, Election Law, Debt Collection, Consumer and Lemon Law.

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  • Ruth M. McElroy


    Ruth M. McElroy practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Pre and Post Marital Agreements, Domestic Violence, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Juvenile Crimes, Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes, Traffic Offenses, Debt Collection, Civil and Business Litigation. She serves the Virginia Court system as a Guardian ad litem.

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  • Jennifer D. Cisneros


    Jennifer D. Cisneros practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Crimes, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Estate Planning, Wills and Probate, Trusts, Civil and Business Litigation and Debt Collection.

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How Mental Illness Can Impact a Virginia Divorce


Virginia recognizes at-fault divorces, which include grounds such as desertion, adultery, spouse’s felony conviction, or cruelty/abandonment. Like other states, “irreconcilable differences” is also one of the grounds allowed, which is technically a “no-fault” divorce. A spouse can file for divorce from a mentally ill spouse citing any of the at-fault grounds or irreconcilable differences. A spouse can also try to mitigate their own fault for a marriage breaking up by citing insanity as well, although it won’t keep the divorce from proceeding.

Mental illness is not easy to talk about for many people. They feel embarrassed or ashamed, and are hesitant to seek medical assistance. In some cases, a person may not even realize their erratic behavior is due to an underlying mental illness. They may just know something feels off or they don’t feel like themselves.

If your spouse is suffering from mental illness and you are considering walking away from the marriage, we recommend speaking with a knowledgeable Virginia family law attorney who has experience with mental health matters as well. Our firm’s founder, John C. Whitbeck, Jr., Esquire, is not only a very experienced family law attorney, he is an adjunct professor of mental illness law at George Mason University Law School. He is also the former director of the university’s Law and Mental Illness Clinic, and he has been quoted numerous times in the media regarding his expertise.

Child Custody and Mental Illness

Mental illness can impact child custody as well. When the court is determining custody, the judge will put the child’s best interests above everything else. If one parent is suffering from mental illness, it doesn’t automatically deny them the right to custody. However, it could influence the decision if there is concern over whether the child is safe or will be harmed if he or she remains with the parent.

The severity of the mental illness in question will play a large role in custody. If the condition involves the need for regular hospitalizations or in-home care, or the parent has a history of violent outbursts, a judge will weigh those more heavily than someone who suffers from mild anxiety.

Support and Asset Distribution

In addition to child custody, the laws in Virginia also direct the family court judge on how to award child support, spousal support, and distribution of assets. There is a requirement that the judge evaluate the mental condition of all parties when making these decisions.

Some people are concerned that taking antidepressants or anxiety meds will mean they are not eligible to receive spousal support or any distribution of property. This is definitely not the case, especially if your illness is a legitimate medical condition and is being medically monitored and treated effectively.

Retaining a Virginia Divorce Attorney

If you suffer from a mental illness and your spouse is filing for divorce, it’s imperative you speak to a Virginia divorce attorney right away. You need someone on your side who can help protect your interests and ensure you feel comfortable talking about your day-to-day life and current treatment. Contact Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC today at 703-997-4982 to schedule a consultation.

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Governor Northam’s Executive Order 53 provides that businesses that offer professional rather than retail services may remain open. Our firm is continuing to operate to ensure you and your family have advocates available for whatever legal issue you face. For clients who prefer, we can arrange meeting by Zoom or other video-conferencing. We are also implementing internal procedures to provide a safe environment in the office. Please contact us at 703-777-1795 or schedule an appointment today!