Mental Health and Divorce text over graphic of sad and happy silhouettes

You may remember the media frenzy surrounding Kanye West’s bid (and unbid) for presidency; his first and only campaign rally in Charleston, South Carolina; and his ensuing flurry of tweets directed to and about his wife, children and her family wherein he dropped the word “divorce”. To her credit, Kim Kardashian-West, or possibly her public relations team, crafted a graceful rebuttal addressing Kanye’s bipolar diagnosis and seeking compassion for her husband during this time of family crisis. This is where celebrity life and real life coincide. Mental health issues are common in divorce whether you are a Kardashian, or not. It is an unfortunate reality and can make the separation and divorce process more complicated and difficult.

It appears that for the time being Kardashian-West is standing by and supporting her husband. Her eloquent post in response to the recent events referenced the helplessness of family members and friends who want a loved one to seek treatment and health. She is correct in her statement that the affected party needs to want and seek treatment on their own for the most part. There are limited means of forcing that type of care and treatment on an adult loved one.

With more than 3 million cases of diagnosed bipolar disorder in the United States each year, Kardashian-West is not alone in the pain of watching a loved one go through what has been described as a manic episode incident to a bipolar diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is one of many other of a spectrum of mental illness that can impact relationships and ultimately become a catalyst for the breakdown of a marriage.

However, in situations where one or both parties are dealing with mental health issues, those diagnoses do not go away during the separation and divorce process. In fact, they may be exacerbated by the stress of the separation and divorce process. When one or both parties has reached the conclusion that they cannot move forward in the relationship, it is important to approach cases involving mental illness in a manner that respects the circumstances – particularly when children are involved. Following are a few considerations to think about in such situations:

  1. The party impacted by a mental health issue may be a danger to themselves or others. First and foremost, it is important to ensure everyone’s safety by setting appropriate boundaries and guidelines for communication and contact. This does not mean that every situation requires a protective order, or other such restraints. For the sake and well-being of all parties, it is not advisable to use or abuse someone’s mental health diagnosis for improper purposes. The requests for any restraints should fit the actual circumstances and not be used as a strategy or leverage.
  2. The party impacted by a mental health issue may not be positioned to make decisions for themselves. If the party is going through a manic episode or is otherwise incapacitated mentally, there is a consideration of whether or not they are competent to negotiate and enter any agreements or even prepare and appear in court without assistance. Agreements and rulings could be subject to later challenge if not obtained under the proper circumstances.
  3. The party impacted by a mental health issue may still be awarded parenting time. Unless the mental health diagnosis presents a danger to the children, the party experiencing a mental health issue will likely still be provided appropriate parenting time with their children. Given the significant portion of the population diagnosed with a mental illness, it would be unreasonable to think that such a diagnosis would prevent the exercise of parental rights to parenting time. A court may find that there are certain treatment steps and protocol (such as taking medication and following doctor’s advice) that should apply.

It is important to work with a family law attorney so that you can make quick assessments about the best approach to navigating a separation and divorce where there are underlying concerns of mental illness by either party.

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