Mental Health Issues and Divorce in South Carolina

An overview of the effects of mental health issues on divorce in South Carolina.

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School
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A spouse with mental health issues may try to keep these challenges private during a divorce. However, each spouse's mental health history will be discussed openly during a divorce, especially for couples with young children. A history of serious mental health challenges will have a significant impact on your divorce. This article provides an overview of the effects of mental illness on divorce in South Carolina. If you have questions, please contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Overview of the Grounds for Divorce

A spouse filing for divorce must state the reason or "ground" for the breakdown of the couple's marriage. Every state allows couples to get a "no-fault" divorce based on "irreconcilable differences," if the marriage isn't working. Several states also recognize "fault-based" divorces, where one spouse blames the other for ruining the marriage. In South Carolina, a spouse can obtain a fault-based divorce on the following grounds:

  • adultery
  • desertion for at least one year
  • physical cruelty
  • habitual alcohol or narcotic drug use, or
  • separation of at least one year.

In South Carolina, a spouse can't request a divorce based on the other spouse's insanity. However, a healthy spouse can file for divorce from an insane spouse based on irreconcilable differences or any of the above grounds. A mentally ill spouse can claim insanity as a defense to claims that he or she acted cruelly or deserted a spouse. Although insanity can be raised as a defense, it won't prevent the healthy spouse from getting a divorce.

Impact of Mental Health Issues on Child Custody

A child's best interests are central to every custody decision. A judge will consider several factors in determining a child's best interests, including each parent's mental health and emotional stability. More severe cases of mental illness will have a bigger impact on custody.

In one South Carolina case, a mentally ill mother was awarded custody of both children. The court considered both parents' mental health history, including the mother's eight-month confinement in a mental institution. Ultimately, the court looked favorably on the mother's actions to treat and resolve her mental illness. In awarding her custody, the court found that the mother was more stable and emotionally attuned than the father, despite her past mental health struggles.

An untreated drug or alcohol addiction can also negatively impact a parent's chances at custody. Alcohol and drugs can cloud a parent's thinking and make it impossible to adequately care for a child. A parent's chronic drug or alcohol abuse is grounds for divorce in South Carolina, and, in most cases, a parent who abuses alcohol or controlled substances will end up with limited supervised visitation (meaning that all visits with the child must be monitored by a third party), In extreme cases, where continuing contact with the parent poses a threat to the child's safety, health, or welfare, a court may terminate (cut off) all parental rights.

Will a Judge Terminate a Mentally Ill Parent's Rights?

It's rare for a judge to completely cut off parental rights. However, a judge will terminate a parent's legal rights if doing so serves the child's best interests. A termination of rights may be appropriate in the following situations:

  • the child or another child was severely harmed or abused while in the parent's home
  • the child was removed from the parent's home by court order more than six months ago and the parent has refused to resolve the situation which caused the removal
  • the parent has willfully refused to visit the child for at least six months following a court-ordered removal, or
  • the parent has a condition which is unlikely to change in a reasonable time, and the condition makes it impossible for the parent to adequately care for the child, including:
    • alcohol or drug addiction
    • mental deficiency
    • mental illness, or
    • extreme physical incapacity.

In one South Carolina case, a mother's mental incapacity prevented her from exercising good judgment or meeting her child's needs. A termination of parental rights was appropriate in this case because there was no chance that the mother's mental faculties would improve, and the child was excelling in an out-of-home placement.

Impact of Mental Health Issues on Alimony

A parent's mental health issues will play a role in support cases. A judge may award alimony (also called spousal support) when a mentally-ill spouse can't meet basic monthly expenses. In many instances, a mentally ill spouse may be unable to keep a job and therefore, need financial support.

However, a parent's mental health struggles aren't an excuse to get out of paying child support. In some cases, courts can garnish a parent's income, including disability and Social Security benefits to pay child support. Judges will weigh the needs of parents and children when deciding an appropriate amount of support.

Can I Seek an Annulment from a Mentally Ill Spouse?

South Carolina law permits annulments on grounds of fraud or duress. A spouse's concealment of his or her insanity or severe mental illness is considered fraud. For annulment purposes, a spouse's insanity must exist at the time of marriage and be unknown to the other spouse. Time is of the essence in seeking an annulment. A court won't grant an annulment if spouses cohabitate after a spouse's insanity is discovered.

You or your spouse's mental health struggles may affect both your marriage and your divorce. For couples with children, it's important to understand the impact that mental health issues may have on your custody case. If you have additional questions about the impact of mental illness on divorce in South Carolina, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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