Mental Health Issues and Divorce in Ohio

Learn how mental health issues affect divorce in Ohio.

By , Retired Judge

In virtually every state, including Ohio, mental health issues, including depression, bipolar disorder, and addiction have long played a role in divorce and other family law matters. This article provides an overview of how mental health might affect a divorce in Ohio. If you have questions about your own case, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Are Mental Health Issues Grounds for Divorce in Ohio?

When you file for divorce, you must identify the "grounds" (reasons) for the breakup. These are usually divided into "no-fault" grounds and "fault-based" grounds.

In a no-fault divorce, you can simply cite "irreconcilable differences" (incompatibility) or separation for a certain period of time - depending on the laws of your state.

With fault-based divorces, one or both spouses accuse the other of causing the marriage to fail. Common fault-based grounds are:

  • extreme cruelty (mental or physical)
  • adultery
  • insanity or other serious mental illness (like untreated bipolar disorder), and
  • substance abuse (alcohol or drugs).

Ohio doesn't allow insanity, serious mental illness, or drug abuse as a basis for divorce. It does, however, permit divorce based on "habitual drunkenness." According to Ohio court cases, occasional intoxication isn't enough. The alcohol abuse must be a frequent and recurring problem.

Mental Incapacity Can Be a Basis for Annulment

An annulment makes a marriage void, as if it never took place. In Ohio, the court can grant an annulment if either of the spouses was mentally incompetent when the marriage occurred. (But a court won't do this if that same spouse became competent later on and lived with the other spouse as husband and wife after that.)

The mental incompetence required for an annulment would have to be so bad that the spouse wasn't capable of voluntarily consenting to the marriage. This kind of mental impairment could be caused by any number of conditions. Some of these might be:

  • severe mental retardation
  • being significantly intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, or
  • serious mental illness (for example, being delusional as a result of schizophrenia).

Ohio law presumes that a person was competent when getting married, so it's up to the spouse claiming incompetency to prove his or her case to the court.

Mental Health Issues Influence Custody and Visitation

A court's primary goal in deciding child custody and visitation (parenting time) is to protect the child's best interest. Under Ohio law, one of the factors a court must consider in determining the child's best interest is the mentalhealth of all persons involved. That being the case, the court is going to take a long, hard look at any mental illness or substance abuse concerns that might impair either parent's ability to care for the children.

In Ohio, mental health and substance abuse problems don't automatically disqualify a parent from custody or parenting time. Many times, a parent will receive treatment to try and deal with these issues (such as medication, therapy, or alcohol rehabilitation).

If the court believes it's necessary, it can put certain restrictions on custody in place to assure the child is safe. For example, a court can order a parent who is dealing with drinking problems to refrain from consuming alcohol when visiting with the child.

There are times when a parent's mental instability or substance abuse is so bad that a judge wouldn't be comfortable allowing the parent to be alone with the child. Rather than denying the parent access to the child completely, the judge could order supervised visitation. What this means is that the parent would be able to spend time with the child, but only in the presence of a third party, such as a grandparent, mutual friend, or social services agency.

The Role of Mental Health in Terminating Parental Rights

Terminating parental rights is a drastic action and one that a court will not take lightly. The law strongly believes that the parent-child relationship shouldn't be disrupted unless absolutely necessary. However, there are situations where a parent is so unfit to raise a child, that the court really has no alternative.

In Ohio, a court can terminate parental rights for a number of reasons, including that a parent suffers from chronic mental illness or chemical dependency, which is so severe, the parent is unable to provide an adequate permanent home or care for the child. But before severing parental rights, the court must find that this situation currently exists and is likely to continue for at least a year.

Mental Health's Impact on Alimony and Property Distribution

When addressing alimony (spousal support), Ohio law lists a number of factors a court must look at in determining whether to award support, the amount of support, and how long it must be paid. One of these factors is the spouses' mental condition.

A typical example of how a spouse's mental illness might influence an alimony award is where the mental condition prevents a spouse from being self-supporting. If that spouse has financial needs, yet can't meet those needs because of his or her mental impairment, Ohio court cases have held that the spouse may actually be entitled to more than the usual amount of alimony.

There are a lot of complicated issues involved in the topic of mental health and divorce in Ohio. Consult a qualified family law attorney with any questions you may have.

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