Mental Illness and Divorce

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Explore:  Divorce Mental Illness

Roughly one quarter of adult Americans have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

If you are married to a person who suffers from mental illness, you have seen the daily struggles you and your spouse go through. Persons in a relationship with a mentally ill person can vacillate daily between compassion and support to fear and anger. As a result, they often feel helpless, depressed, and defeated. When one spouse suffers from depression, the marriage is nine times more likely to end in divorce.

Living with a mentally ill spouse can be very difficult. The non-mentally ill spouse may become a full-time caregiver of their partner, which can lead to resentment and bitterness. Sometimes, the non-mentally ill spouse has an affair or otherwise withdraws from the marriage. As a consequence, divorce can result. In fact, in marriages involving a spouse with bipolar disorder, the divorce rate is approximately 90 percent.

In New Jersey, mental illness is one of the listed grounds for a fault divorce. The statute provides:

“[i]nstitutionalization for mental illness for a period of 24 or more consecutive months subsequent to marriage and next preceding the filing of the complaint.”

What this means is that if your spouse has been institutionalized for 24 or more months due to mental illness, and you wish to file for divorce, you can proceed under a “fault” divorce. In that case, the judge can consider this fact when deciding how much alimony to award, but won’t take this fact into account when deciding how to divide up the property.

If your spouse suffers from mental illness, but hasn’t been institutionalized, you are also free to file for divorce, but you have to proceed on no-fault grounds.