There has been a lot of coverage in the newspapers on the topic of mental health and how Covid-19 and the lockdown has affected us all; whether that’s physically, mentally or financially. What is clear is that divorce solicitors have seen a rise in enquiries about divorce proceedings following the end of the Covid-19 lockdown citing mental health issues as the reason for the decision to separate. In this blog, we look at the complex topic of divorce and mental health.
Covid-19, Mental Health and Divorce
None of us ever envisaged having to go into lockdown to fight an invisible but pernicious enemy or realised how hard it could be on our own physical or mental health or that of our friends and family. Most of now have a greater appreciation of the phrase ‘’stir crazy’’ than we did before March 2020.
Now that we are out of lockdown and restrictions are being eased many of us are taking the opportunity to re-evaluate our lives and look afresh at what is really important to us and to our family. For some, problems in relationships that existed prior to the global pandemic, have become more apparent during the confinement of lockdown and hence the rise in divorce enquiries seen by Whitefield divorce solicitors.
Many husbands and wives are citing mental health issues (either on their part or their husband, wife or civil partner) when explaining the decision to separate. Divorce solicitors would be the first to say that they aren’t doctors and that divorce should not be seen as either the first or the easy option. That is why Whitefield divorce solicitors recommend looking at whether mental health issues can be addressed before you take the decision to separate. For example, if a spouse is able to recognise that their mental health is affecting the marriage or their spouse’s health and take the decision to get treatment, comply with a medication regime or engage in either couple or individual counselling.
In some cases, the lockdown has just confirmed what people already knew; that their relationship was in trouble and that counselling would not help save the marriage. Counselling, on either an individual or joint basis, can still play a very helpful role in some families by assisting you to come to terms with the separation and move on with your lives.
Manchester divorce solicitors are asked many questions about mental health and divorce and here are some answers to the frequently asked questions. We have used husband and wife in the questions but these are interchangeable as mental health affects everyone.
Can I get divorced if my husband is mentally unwell?
You can get divorced if your husband or wife is mentally unwell. Many people who experience mental health problems are able to engage in court proceedings, hold down a job, parent their children and manage their personal and financial affairs on a day-to-day basis.
However, if the mental health problems are such that your husband or wife is seriously ill (either temporarily or on a permanent basis) and does not have the capacity to take part in divorce proceedings then a person (called a litigation friend) can be appointed to act in their best interests. This makes the divorce proceedings a bit more complicated but you can still start and finalise divorce proceedings even if your husband or wife’s mental health is such that they are not well enough to take part in the court case. The decision on whether a spouse is able to take part in divorce court proceedings is made by the medical profession and court after an assessment of capacity.
Can I stop contact because of the dad’s mental health?
If either parent has mental health problems this isn’t a bar to contact or child custody. If one parent is worried about the behaviour of the other parent and thinks that the behaviour stems from their mental health issues, the best solution is to try to get medical and professional help. If that doesn’t work, or your husband or wife refuses to accept that they have a problem or won’t acknowledge the impact of their behaviour on the children, then you can apply to the court for a child arrangements order.
A child arrangements order sets out which parent a child should live with and how much contact should take place with the other parent. When deciding on whether to make a child arrangements order and the exact child custody and contact arrangements a family judge will decide what he or she believes is in the best interests of the child after assessing a range of factors, referred to as the ‘’welfare checklist’’.
One of the factors in the welfare checklist is ‘’how capable each parent is of meeting the child’s needs’’. A child’s needs don’t just mean food on the table and being sent to school but how a parent can meet a child’s emotional needs. A parent doesn’t need to be ‘’perfect’’ to parent a child or to have contact with them but they do need to be able to protect them, both physically and emotionally.
Decisions on custody and contact are also influenced by the age of a child and their wishes. For example, a teenage child may be used to caring for a parent who is unwell and if contact were to stop the child would be anxious and more distressed than not seeing their mother or father, even if the parent is unwell. It should also be remembered that health can change and the needs of a child can alter as they grow up.
How do I reach a financial settlement when my wife won’t cooperate because of her mental health?
It is always best to try and reach an agreement on a financial settlement if you can do so. That is because it saves time and money. There are many reasons why a husband and wife can’t reach an amicable financial settlement, including the mental health concerns of either a husband or wife. Reaching a financial settlement is still possible by starting financial proceedings and asking the court to make a financial court order.
If a spouse doesn’t have the mental capacity to take part in the financial proceedings their interests will be protected by the court appointing someone to act in their best interests. For example, if a spouse is seriously unwell, they may say that they want nothing from the marriage even though they are entitled to at least fifty percent of the family assets and will need the money to rehouse and support themselves. The person appointed to act for them must do what is in their best interests, rather than agreeing to the other partner keeping everything.
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Will my husband’s mental health affect the financial settlement?
A husband or wife’s mental health may affect the financial settlement depending on the severity of their mental health condition, the treatment options and prognosis, and a range of other factors. A specialist divorce solicitor can advise on the likely impact, if any, of a mental health condition on a financial settlement. For example, mental health may have an impact on employment prospects and spousal maintenance or employment and retirement plans and pension options or housing needs and mortgage capacity. Every family situation is different so it is best to get expert legal advice.
Divorce and mental health
Many people struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives. Their problems are often temporary but that isn’t always the case or a separation or divorce can exacerbate mental health problems. If you are in that position, or your husband or wife or civil partner is, then the best thing that you can do is ensure that the family has the practical, counselling, medical and legal support the family needs to get you all through a tough emotional time.
Our Manchester Divorce Solicitors
At Evolve Family Law, based in Whitefield, North Manchester and Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, our expert divorce solicitors provide friendly, approachable advice on all aspects of family law. If you need legal help with a separation or divorce or child contact and custody or assistance with a financial settlement then call us for an appointment with our specialist Whitefield divorce solicitors or complete our online enquiry form.