Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse

Mentally Ill Man

Divorcing a mentally ill spouse can be a tedious, dangerous process or it can be a relatively streamlined, routine legal proceeding. The spectrum of mental illness is so wide that it can mean a variety of things.

Mental Illness

Mental illness can mean many different things, but the basic idea is that the person suffering from mental illness has some form of psychopathology that makes his mind work differently from other people. Generally, the difference in brain function is detrimental to the person and may make it difficult to function in varying degrees. Some people suffer from mental illness that never gets diagnosed while others are diagnosed and treated with psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both.

Whether you are divorcing a mentally ill spouse as a result of the effects the mental illness had on your relationship, or if you do not realize that psychopathology exists until after you try to leave, the stress involved with a divorce can be enough to make the effects of the mental illness increase. For example, a person who suffers intermittently from episodes of depression may wind up in a severely depressed state and perhaps even suicidal as the result of a spouse initiating a divorce.

Personal Responsibility

You may be the person closest to your soon-to-be-ex spouse, but this does not mean that you are completely responsible for what happens as a result of his mental illness. Simply put, if initiating a divorce results in the mentally ill spouse hurting himself, it is important to remember that this is not the fault of the spouse who initiated the divorce.

Mentally ill people may make irrational decisions when placed under stress, but their actions are not your responsibility. Some mentally ill people will use their mental illness as way to keep spouses around, such as in "If you were to ever leave me, I just don't know what I would do." The point is this: Unless you deliberately set out to emotionally hurt your mentally ill spouse, and in turn this results in your spouse hurting himself, it is not your fault and you should not stay hostage in a marriage out of fear that your spouse will hurt himself or someone else.

Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse Carefully

Take care when divorcing a spouse who has aggression issues or who is prone to delusions as a result of mental illness. In a situation where you feel threatened by the mentally ill spouse, seek out a safe place to stay and take all of the precautions possible to protect yourself.

Keep documentation of every statement or encounter that makes you feel threatened. This information may be useful if you need to request a restraining order or some other form of legal action against the mentally ill spouse. Also keep in mind that serious mental illness may compel an otherwise rational person to do things that are incredibly uncharacteristic. For example, a man who is usually kind and gentle - yet who is prone to dissociative rages that he does not remember afterwards - should be dealt with cautiously.

Serious cases of mental illness may need to involve temporary hospitalization for treatment. Until the divorce is final, you may be the person who has the authority to request this.

Compassion and Patience

People do not choose to be mentally ill. Many people with serious psychopathologies feel trapped and frustrated by their circumstances. Instead of dismissing your soon-to-be ex-spouse as "crazy," try to deal with her as compassionately as possible, just as you would if she had a chronic health problem that leaves her in pain on a regular basis.

You do not have to stay married to someone just because she has a mental illness, but the process of divorcing someone with mental illness can prove to be a little more complicated than divorcing someone who does not have these mental issues.

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Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse