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Matrimonial Law and Mental Illness

Divorce between two parties with children is emotionally, and often financially, difficult. Divorce can involve many legal aspects: worrying about visitation rights – now known as ‘parenting time’ – alimony considerations, custody battles and other issues. These matters are further complicated if there is evidence of mental health issues which may have contributed to the marriage dissolution. In order to make divorce proceedings run as smooth as possible – for everyone, especially the children – it’s best to get a little education on what help is available to couples.

Difficulties Within a Marriage

First, if you’re experiencing difficulties within your marriage there are many steps to try before deciding on traumatic, and often costly, divorce proceedings. It’s probably worthwhile attending marriage counseling or family therapy before making any life-changing decisions, especially if children are part of those decisions.
If ultimately, however, both parties view divorce as the best solution there are considerations relating specifically to mental health issues and their impact on divorce proceedings.

Mental Health Issues

If one parent is suffering from a mental health issue, it’s imperative that the other parent is fully aware of this, and as supportive as possible, regardless of marriage status. There is help for mental illness available, whether that help comes in the form of therapy, educational resources for yourself or someone you know who is suffering, or information about paying for healthcare.

Postpartum Depression

Increasingly, postpartum depression is recognized as playing a role in modern marriages – and sadly, therefore, as playing a role in modern divorces. Postpartum depression is thankfully recognized nowadays as a debilitating mental health issue that can range from feelings of low self-esteem and mild depressive feelings to full-blown psychoses. Additionally, there is lots of information online offering assistance on how to spot warning signs, what help is available if symptoms present themselves, and how to cope with postpartum depression. However, the pressures of living with such a problem can strain a marriage to the point of divorce. If a marriage reaches this point – and if both parties agree – it would probably be best to proceed on no-fault divorce grounds. This should probably mean less legal intervention which tends to keep the costs down and also alleviates the possibility for animosity between parties – particularly important where children and mental health issues are involved.

Fathers’ Custody Rights

In New York, fathers are entitled to equal rights regarding custody and visitation with their children but it can sometimes seem like an uphill struggle, so fathers’ rights lawyers are now available to best put forward the fathers’ rights and wishes in court. In cases where the father has reason to be concerned about the well-being of his children – in a mental health case, for example – the law is tricky. For example, postpartum depression (which is far more common than most people realize with 1.3 million women suffering from it per year) is still fairly new as a consideration in custody proceedings. What remains clear is that many women are concerned to seek mental health services for fear that they may lose custody of their children, whether this fear is unfounded or not. But women must come forward so that proper analysis can take place – to ensure that postpartum depression is diagnosed and helped, rather than mistakenly treated as a longer-term and more extreme mental health problem. Not that postpartum isn’t serious: there have been unpleasant cases in the news whereby mothers have injured or killed their own children in the grip of postpartum depression.

What Can a Husband Do?

So what happens if a husband has good grounds for believing his children’s well-being may be at risk – does he have the right to request custody on these grounds? And to what extent are mental health issues taken into consideration by the divorce court, anyway? This is an area that needs more attention. At the moment, guidelines for child custody evaluations are available but reasonably vague. The bottom line is that postpartum depression and mental health issues are common factors within marriage difficulties and divorce and custody cases. If you’re suffering – either directly or indirectly, do seek help. The more this area is discussed and analyzed in the courtroom, the better equipped the legal system will be to understand it and deal with it appropriately.

This article was presented by a guest author, Melissa Johnson.

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