In any given year, more than 43 million Americans experience a mental illness, while over 20 million Americans suffer from a substance abuse disorder. Mental illness and substance abuse affect all sectors of society, and as a result, affect court decisions in many of the divorce, child custody, and alimony cases each year. Each state has laws that govern how judges decide divorce cases when a parent has a mental health issue.
This article explains how mental health affects divorce in Arizona. If you have additional questions about mental health and divorce in Arizona after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.
Arizona is a “no-fault divorce” state, which means that courts can grant couples divorces without one spouse having to prove that the other spouse was at fault for causing the couple’s split. Instead, the couple can simply claim that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and a judge can grant them a divorce.
Still, a spouse has the right to ask the court to grant a divorce for specific grounds, such as if the couple has lived separately for at least two years prior to a spouse asking for divorce. Therefore, if a spouse has been committed to a mental institution for at least two years, the court can grant the other spouse a divorce on these grounds.
Judges in Arizona can also grant "fault" divorces. Fault grounds include alcohol or substance abuse. Generally, a spouse can’t get a divorce simply because the other spouse occasionally used alcohol or drugs, but if a spouse is addicted to the degree it causes problems in the relationship or with children, courts will grant a divorce. Additionally, a judge will grant a divorce if one spouse was convicted of a drug-related felony.
When Arizona courts decide custody, they consider a wide variety of factors, including the mental and physical health of all individuals involved. If one parent suffers from a mental illness, the judge will consider whether the mental health issues affect that parent’s ability to adequately care for the child, or whether they affect the child’s relationship with the parent. When mental health is an issue in a custody case, courts often order the parent in question to submit to a mental examination.
Many parents are able to cope with their mental illness and appropriately parent their children. Courts won’t refuse parents custodial rights simply because they have mental health problems. Judges only restrict mentally ill parents’ custodial rights when the illness prevents them from caring for their children. For example, one Arizona judge ordered supervised visitation for a father due to his alcoholism and severe emotional problems, his habit of driving while intoxicated with the child in the car, and his propensity for violence.
Any person that has an interest in a child’s well-being, such as a parent, relative, physician, or child welfare agency, can ask the court to terminate a parent-child relationship. When a parent can’t appropriately parent due to mental illness or mental deficiency and there’s reason to believe the illness will continue indefinitely, a judge can terminate that parent’s parental rights. Since termination of parental rights is a permanent decision, however, judges only take this action in extreme circumstances, such as when the child’s mental or physical safety are in danger.
Additionally, if a parent has a history of abusing dangerous drugs, controlled substances, or alcohol, and there’s evidence the substance abuse will continue in the future, a court may terminate that parent’s relationship with any children.
Normally, when a court removes a child from a parent’s home, it has the obligation to help the parent attempt to resolve the issues in the household so that the family can be reunited. When a parent suffers from mental illness of such magnitude that reunification services won’t help, however, there’s no obligation to try to reunite the child and mentally ill parent.
When couples divorce, and one spouse isn’t able to be self-sufficient through employment, the court can grant that spouse spousal support (also referred to as “alimony”). Often, when a spouse’s mental illness prevents them from being employed, that spouse may be eligible for disability benefits. When that spouse isn’t eligible for disability benefits, however, a judge may require the other spouse to pay alimony to the mentally ill spouse. For example, in one Arizona divorce case, the court awarded the wife alimony of $5,000 per month when she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and would be unable to work for the next three to five years.
If a person is incapacitated and unable make his or her own decisions, the court can grant that person a guardian. A person can be incapacitated by either mental illness or chronic drug or alcohol abuse. A guardian has similar rights and duties over the mentally ill individual as a parent has over a minor child. In a divorce, a guardian can ask the court to grant a divorce and also request alimony on behalf of the mentally ill spouse.
Arizona judges can declare a marriage null and void in certain circumstances, such as when one spouse never consented to the marriage or a spouse is below the legal marrying age. If a spouse was mentally ill at the time of the marriage to the degree that he or she couldn’t understand the nature of the ceremony, the court can annul the marriage. Similarly, if a spouse was so intoxicated at the time of the ceremony that he or she didn’t comprehend the situation, a judge may declare the marriage null and void.
If you have additional questions about mental health and divorce, contact an Arizona family law attorney for help.