Building a Strong Case: The Role of Mental Health Professionals in Divorce Proceedings

by | Jan 29, 2024 | Divorce

In divorce cases where a spouse has a diagnosed or suspected mental illness, that fact can impact property division, spousal support, and child custody. Yet often in divorce, parties are quick to say that their ex is “crazy,” incapable of taking care of themselves, much less others, and not to be trusted. Maybe it’s true that one parent’s past behavior has been erratic or even dangerous. Maybe they do have a debilitating mental illness. Or maybe these kinds of statements are exaggerations, if not completely baseless, made by one spouse to try to hurt their ex and influence the court.


When your divorce involves issues regarding mental health, how does the court determine the facts? Having a mental health professional perform an impartial evaluation can be invaluable in cutting through emotional claims to get a clear picture to inform the court’s decisions on custody and support. In California, either parent in a custody case can request a psychological evaluation, or the court can order one. At Hoover Krepelka, we specialize in dealing with family law cases that are complicated by mental health issues. We can provide seasoned advice, referrals, and mental health experts when you’re considering if an evaluation is called for.



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How Mental Health Can Play a Role in a California Divorce


As a no-fault divorce state, California doesn’t require divorcing couples to provide a reason for dissolving their marriage. Thus, it isn’t necessary to “prove” that a spouse is mentally ill to establish grounds for seeking a divorce. However, a mental illness can cause behaviors that impact a person’s ability to work outside the home, manage their own finances, or provide a safe and nurturing environment for a child.


This means that the court won’t be looking necessarily at a person’s diagnosis but at the behavior that results, and how that affects their ability to function. For example, a spouse that is significantly disabled by depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder may require a greater degree of financial support than someone who can work and is capable of handling daily tasks. This influences both property division and spousal support orders. Likewise, the court examines the ability of each parent to provide for their child’s health and well-being, perhaps having to consider the mental health of one parent versus the mental health of the other to make decisions regarding legal and physical custody in the best interest of the child.


What to Expect from an Evaluation by a Mental Health Professional in Divorce

Mental health and divorce


If mental health is an issue in your divorce proceedings, it can bring up deep-seated fears at a time that is already stressful. You may be afraid of losing a custody battle due to your mental illness. Whether your spouse has requested an evaluation or you have proactively sought one, knowing what to expect can reduce the anxiety associated with the process. It is always the best approach to be cooperative.


While the exact components of an evaluation can vary depending on each case, the evaluator is likely to conduct interviews, perform psychological testing, and review previous records. When child custody is at issue, separate interviews and testing may extend to other members of the family, such as your ex and your children. They will also conduct observations of each parent interacting with the child or children, and may also interview health care providers, teachers, and others.


Ideally, you are not alone in this. Your family law attorney should provide guidance to help you navigate this process to help ensure that the information gathered provides an accurate picture and to safeguard against the possibility of your ex weaponizing your mental health condition against you.


When to Show the Impact of a Mental Illness


What happens when you’re the one who fears your mentally ill spouse is too unstable or unsafe to be entrusted with your children, or who suspects that they’re exaggerating their inability to work to increase the amount of spousal support you’re required to pay? Perhaps they have been diagnosed with a mental illness, or you only suspect based on their behavior that there’s an underlying condition at play. They may have a history of violent behavior, self-medicate inappropriately with alcohol or drugs, fail to stick to a treatment plan that keeps their symptoms under control, or flat-out deny they have a problem.


In these cases, an evaluation by a mental health professional can provide substance that backs up your observations to make a persuasive case to the court. It is worth noting that the determination on alimony or spousal support and child custody don’t always go hand in hand. An evaluator may or may not make a connection between the ability to work and the ability to parent. Each case and situation is unique.


Your Northern California Family Law Experts


When mental health issues intersect with divorce, reaching just resolutions for spousal support, child support, and child custody takes on an added layer of complexity. The experienced, empathetic team at Hoover Krepelka can provide expert support to meet these unique challenges, including referrals and mental health experts for your case. To schedule a consultation, fill out the form below today.

*The above is not meant to be legal advice, and every case is different. Feel free to reach out to us at Hoover Krepelka, LLP, if you have any questions. Information contained in this content and website should not be relied on as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice on your specific situation. 

Visiting this site or relying on information gleaned from the site does not create an attorney-client relationship. The content on this website is the property of Hoover Krepelka, LLP and may not be used without the written consent thereof.


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