Mental Health Issues and Divorce in Michigan

When left untreated, severe mental health issues —including mental illness and addiction disorders — can destroy marriages and harm children. This article will explain the potential impact of mental health on divorce proceedings in Michigan.

Mental Health Issues and Grounds for Divorce

Michigan is a no-fault divorce state, so spouses can't sue for divorce based on the other's mental illness or substance abuse problems.

However, courts can annul (void) a marriage based on one spouse's mental incapacity at the time the vows were exchanged. Marriage is a civil contract that's backed by the government, which means that both spouses must be in good enough mental health that they're able to give their consent.

If, at the time of marriage, a spouse was not capable of giving actual consent to the marriage (due to mental illness or severe intoxication or drug use) the court can annul the marriage. However, the court will not annul a marriage if the spouses cohabited (lived together) after the mentally ill or addicted person regained their capacity to consent.

Furthermore, if a spouse without mental health problems asks a mentally ill or addicted spouse for a divorce, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem (a legal advocate) to represent the mentally ill person's interests in the proceedings.

How Mental Health Issues Affect Child Custody

Michigan family courts will decide custody based on what's in the best interests of the children. Judges do this by examining a laundry list of factors that are written into Michigan's law, including:

  • the love, affection, and other emotional ties between each spouse and the child
  • each spouse's ability and willingness to give the child love and guidance, and to raise the child in the child's religion or creed
  • each spouse's ability and willingness to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and any other necessary care
  • the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining that environment
  • the permanence, as a family unit, of the child's existing home or the child's proposed custodial home
  • the moral fitness of the spouses involved
  • the mental and physical health of the spouses involved
  • the home, school, and community record of the child
  • the child's wishes regarding custody, if the child is old enough to express a reasonable opinion
  • the willingness and ability of each of the spouses to encourage the child to maintain a positive relationship with the other parent
  • any history of domestic violence, and
  • any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

Judges are required to consider the mental and physical health of the parents, the children, and anyone else who's closely involved in their lives. For example, in one case, the trial judge awarded the mother custody of the children. The father appealed the case, noting that the mother's behavior was extremely erratic and indicative of mental illness. Among other things, the mother had accused one of the children of being possessed by demons, called the father and lied that she had killed one of the children, repeatedly slapped the children (resulting in a split lip on at least one occasion) and disappeared from the home without warning numerous times. The appellate court, upon reviewing this evidence, decided that the trial judge was wrong and awarded custody to the father, who didn't suffer from the same emotional and mental problems.

Mental health and chemical dependency can also play a role in visitation. If the court finds that visitation would endanger a child, it can be restricted. For instance, the court could order supervised visitation, require a third spouse to be present at visitation exchanges, or prohibit overnight visits until the problematic parent completes certain requirements, such as chemical dependency treatment or mental health counseling.

How Mental Health Issues Affect Alimony

In most divorce cases, the judge may order alimony (spousal support) in whatever amount and for whatever time is necessary for the other spouse to become self-supporting. As one court wrote, "The main objective of alimony is to balance the incomes and needs of the spouses in a way that will not impoverish either spouse. Alimony is to be based on what is just and reasonable under the circumstances of the case." Wright v. Wright, 761 N.W.2d 443, 453-54 (Mich. Ct. App. 2008).

For instance, in one case, a long-term marriage ended when the wife was 56 and had few marketable skills. In addition, there was credible expert testimony that she had severe depression, which would prevent her from ever being able to handle the stress of a full-time job. Because she would never become self-sufficient, the court granted her substantial, permanent alimony.

If you have specific questions about mental health issues and divorce, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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