Mental Health Issues and Divorce in Indiana

Millions of Americans suffer from mental illness, including husbands, wives, and children. A family member's mental illness often plays a role in a divorce, potentially affecting property division, alimony, and child custody.

This article explains how mental health affects divorce in Indiana. If you have additional questions about mental health and divorce in Indiana after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.

Mental Health and Divorce

Unlike most other states, Indiana law doesn't allow divorce for fault grounds such as adultery or cruel treatment. You can only get a divorce in Indiana for one of the following four reasons:

  • irreconcilable differences
  • either spouse's conviction of a felony after the marriage
  • impotence, in existence at the time of the marriage, or
  • incurable insanity lasting at least two years.

If you want to divorce your spouse for incurable insanity, a mental health professional must testify that your spouse's mental health issues are severe and not expected to improve in the foreseeable future. If your spouse has less severe mental health problems, you can still file for divorce under the grounds of irreconcilable differences.

Often, courts will appoint a guardian to handle the affairs of an incapacitated individual. Mental incapacitation is when a person suffers from some mental deficiency, and can't manage property, provide self-care, or both. If the guardian believes it's in an incapacitated spouse's best interest to divorce, the guardian can file a divorce petition on that spouse's behalf. If a judge agrees, the court will issue a divorce and decide issues such as property division, alimony, and child support.

An incapacitated spouse has the same rights to marital property as any other spouse. Indiana courts divide property equally between spouses unless there are reasons one spouse should receive more, such as one spouse contributing more to the marriage. Judges also consider each spouse's earning abilities when dividing marital property. If a mentally ill spouse can't work, the court may give that spouse a larger share of the marital estate to help cover expenses.

While you can't divorce your spouse on grounds of alcohol or drug addiction, the court will still hear evidence of substance abuse during your case. Most of the time, addiction issues won't affect a spouse's right to marital property, but if a spouse used substantial marital funds to pay for drugs and alcohol, the court might grant the other spouse a larger share of the marital estate as a form of reimbursement.

Mental Health's Impact on Custody

Indiana judges determine custody orders by analyzing several factors to determine the best interests of the child. A child's relationship with each parent, and each parent's physical and mental health are prime considerations in the custody decision. While many parents are able to treat their mental illness and parent appropriately, others may be prone to violence, neglect, or are otherwise unable to care for children. Courts look at each mentally ill parent's particular circumstances to decide whether a parent is fit to have child custody.

Often, a parent's mental illness interferes in some way with appropriate parenting. In these cases, courts can restrict or place conditions on visitation to protect a child's well being. A judge may order that all visitation be supervised, prohibit overnight visitation, or suspend visitation altogether, depending on the mental illness' severity. Courts also often order mentally ill parents to meet regularly with a psychiatrist and comply with any recommended medications or treatment.

In extreme cases, the court has the power to terminate a mentally ill parent's parental rights. If a parent's mental illness is likely to threaten a child's well being, and a psychiatrist testifies that the illness is expected to continue indefinitely, the judge can permanently sever all of that parent's custodial rights.

Courts are also interested in parents' use of drugs or alcohol. Any use of alcohol or drugs that negatively impacts children, or a parent's ability to care for children, will lower that parent's chances of winning custody. Judges often order parents with substance abuse problems to seek treatment or attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Addicted parents are prohibited from drinking or taking controlled substances before and during visitation periods. Courts can place any other restrictions on visitation for addicted parents, such as random drug screens for a parent, so long as they help protect the child's well being.

Can Mental Health Affect Spousal Support?

In Indiana, there are special rules for alimony when a spouse is mentally incapacitated. If a mentally incapacitated spouse doesn't have enough resources to provide for basic needs, the court may order the other spouse to cover those expenses. The healthy, earning spouse can be required to pay alimony until the other spouse is no longer incapacitated.

Also, if a spouse is unable to work outside of the home due to having custody of a special needs child, the court may order the non-custodial spouse to pay alimony as appropriate. For example, many parents of severely disabled children must provide them with full-time care. If a parent with custody of a special needs child doesn't have separate property to cover living expenses, the other parent will often have to pay the caregiver-spouse some amount of alimony, in addition to child support for the child.

Drug and alcohol addiction typically won't factor into alimony in an Indiana divorce. Although an addicted spouse may have trouble staying employed or paying bills, courts aren't likely to require the other spouse to provide funds that could be used to continue the addiction.

Other Issues

In Indiana, a marriage is automatically void if either spouse was mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage. A judge hearing a case must void, or "annul," a marriage if one spouse was insane or otherwise didn't consent to the marriage at the time of the ceremony. Similarly, if a spouse was intoxicated to the extent he or she couldn't understand the nature of marriage, the court can grant the couple an annulment, unless they continued to live together voluntarily after becoming sober.

If you have additional questions about divorce and mental health, contact an Indiana family law attorney.

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