Mental Health Issues and Divorce in Texas

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

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School

A spouse's mental health issues can challenge any marriage. The same mental health issues that affected your marriage will probably impact your divorce. For couples with children, each spouse's mental health history is important to a custody decision. This article provides an overview of the effects of mental health issues on divorce in Texas. If you have questions about your own case, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Overview of Divorce Grounds

Every divorce petition requires a statement of "grounds" or a reason for the breakup. In Texas, you can file for divorce based on "fault" or "no-fault" grounds. No-fault divorces don't require a specific cause other than "insupportability," which basically means the marriage is over with no hope of reconciliation (this is also known as "irreconcilable differences"). Texas law allows fault divorces based on cruelty, adultery, abandonment, felony conviction, or confinement in a mental hospital.

A divorce based on a spouse's insanity requires proof that the spouse was confined in a mental hospital for three years and that the insanity is permanent. Unlike criminal law, a spouse can't avoid a divorce by claiming insanity. In one Texas case, a court granted a husband's divorce petition against a mentally ill wife. The court disregarded the wife's insanity defense although there was no dispute that the wife had severe mental health issues. A judge will appoint a guardian ad litem to an insane spouse to preserve his or her interests in a divorce.

Impact of Mental Health Issues on Child Custody

A child's best interests are the central focus of any custody case. A judge will consider each parent's emotional stability and ability to provide a child with a safe environment. Minor, well-controlled mental health issues probably won't have much of an effect on custody; however, major mental health problems will.

In one Texas case, the court placed significant restrictions on a mentally ill father's custody. The father challenged the lower court's decision but lost. Texas law allows judges to consider mental illness as a factor that can limit, prohibit, or restrict custody rights. The court upheld the custody limitations in this case because the father stopped treatment for his bipolar disorder and relapsed with his use of illegal drugs.

As noted in the above case, a parent's substance abuse problems will affect custody. Judges can place limitations on a parent's visitation to ensure that he or she won't use alcohol or drugs in the child's presence. In many cases, a parent's visitation restrictions will be lifted after a demonstrated period of emotional stability.

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

Although terminating parental rights is an extreme step, courts will and do take this measure under certain conditions. Terminations of parental rights are an option of last resort; a judge will only sever a parent's rights if it serves a child's best interests and no other alternatives are available. In Texas, a parent with mental health issues may have his or her legal rights terminated if the following criteria are met:

  • the parent has a mental illness or mental deficiency making it impossible to provide for the child's emotional, physical, and mental needs.
  • the parent's mental illness or deficiency is permanent
  • the child has been placed out of the parent's care for at least six months
  • the state has made reasonable efforts to return the child to the parent's care, and
  • the termination of rights serves the child's best interests.

In one Texas case, a schizophrenic and bipolar mother was able to keep her parental rights. The mother was accused of exhibiting mental instability and paranoia, but the state based its request for termination solely on the fact the mother's rights to another child had been terminated 25 years earlier. The mother's parental rights were kept in tact because her mental illness didn't currently affect her ability to parent.

In another case, a mentally ill mother lost all legal rights to her child because she had been unsuccessfully hospitalized for treatment over 20 times, was violent in the past, and was unable to care for her child. While mental illness or mental incompetence alone isn't enough to terminate a parent's rights, a parent with mental health issues will almost always lose parental rights if the child's emotional well-being is in danger.

Impact of Mental Health Issues on Support

A spouse's mental health affects his or her ability to support a family. Debilitating mental health issues can make it impossible for a spouse to hold a steady job. A judge will consider each spouse's earning capacity and mental disabilities when deciding alimony. However, mental health issues won't help you or your spouse escape a child support obligation. Courts can garnish a mentally ill parent's disability or social security checks to pay child support.

Will a Court Grant an Annulment from a Mentally Impaired Spouse?

Some marriages can be mistakes from the get-go. Texas law allows annulments in cases where a spouse is mentally incompetent at the time of marriage. For annulment purposes, mental incompetence can include mental illness, mental deficiency, or impaired thinking as a result of drug or alcohol abuse. For example, in one Texas case, a guardian sought an annulment on behalf of a mentally incompetent husband. The court granted the annulment because the husband didn't comprehend that he had gotten married, and the couple didn't cohabitate or ratify the marriage after the wedding.

Each divorce is as unique as the couple requesting it. The effects of mental health issues on divorce will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. If you have additional questions about the impact of mental health issues on divorce in Texas, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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