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.