Divorcing Someone With a Mental Illness in Arizona: What to Know


Are you divorcing a mentally ill spouse or worried about proving mental illness in a child custody case? Whether you’ve been abandoned by a bipolar spouse or simply want to research your options before something similar happens, leaving the situation to chance could have consequences later. Mental illness child custody in the United States and has a big impact on court decisions for alimony, child custody, and divorce.

In Arizona (a “no-fault divorce” state), the court can grant divorces without one spouse needing to prove that the split was the other’s fault. You can attain a divorce simply by claiming that your marriage is irreparable.

Specific Grounds for Divorce

While you don’t need specific grounds for a divorce in Arizona, you may request one based on a specific reason or circumstance. If your spouse has been in a mental institution for two years, for example, this could show that you’re getting a divorce because of mental illness.

While Arizona is a “no-fault divorce” state, judges may grant “fault” divorces, too. These can be the result of alcohol or drug abuse problems, serious criminal charges, or other issues along with mental health.

Null and Void Marriages

How does mental illness affect marriage laws and circumstances? In some cases, you can void a marriage for mental health-related reasons. If you got married while your spouse was unable to understand what was happening due to their illness, the court may annul your marriage. 

The judge may also consider your marriage void if your spouse was too intoxicated to comprehend the implications of the ceremony.

Child Custody and Mental Health

One of the biggest concerns for parents who are considering divorce is child custody. While many believe that custody is routinely given to the mother or the parent with more money, that’s not the case.

In child custody cases, courts in Arizona will consider a range of relevant factors, including the health of each parent or guardian involved. If one of the parents is mentally ill, the judge will look at whether or not the illness impacts their ability to parent their child. They may request that the mentally ill parent undergo a mental examination to determine this.

What Determines Custodial Rights?

It’s important to keep in mind that simply having mental health issues doesn’t bar a parent from custodial rights. Many parents have great relationships with their kids despite mental illness challenges. Mental illness will only negatively impact a person’s custodial rights if it prohibits them from properly caring for their child. 

In this case, proving someone is too mentally unstable to parent their child will be necessary. Other factors will play a role in custody decisions, including social or emotional hardships the child might encounter if they have to move. The employment situation and time availability of the parents may also impact the final decision of the court.

Termination of Parental Rights

In some cases, mental illness can lead to a parent losing their rights over their child. Anyone in the child’s life who is concerned about their well-being can request that the court terminates parental rights for the parent in question. This can be a relative, doctor, or agency, as well as the other parent. 

Termination of parental rights is permanent, so the judge will only select this option if the situation is extreme. If the child is at serious risk for mental or physical damage and the parent’s illness appears indefinite, termination of parental rights is a distinct possibility. A history of abusing alcohol, controlled substances, or other drugs may also be enough for the court to legally end a parent-child relationship.

When the court removes a child from the parent’s home temporarily, it must attempt to help the adult resolve their issues and reunite the family. This, however, might not apply if the person’s mental illness is so severe that attempting reunification is a futile effort.

Family Reunification in Arizona

The Arizona Department of Child Safety can attempt to reunify families when a sufficient safety plan is in effect to keep the minor out of danger in their home. The organization will conduct background checks on the adults in the household who are responsible for caregiving before reunifying them with their parent. 

If the child is reunited with their parent, the Department will provide continued supervision and support for them. This is meant to help reduce the odds of the child being separated from their parent again.

Mental Health and Alimony

If you’re divorcing your partner and can’t support yourself through unemployment, you might get spousal support (alimony) or disability benefits. In some cases, people are unemployed due to their mental illness, in which case they may qualify for disability.

In cases where the mentally ill spouse isn’t entitled to disability benefits, the judge could require that the other spouse support them with alimony.

Incapacitation Due to Mental Illness

If your spouse is incapacitated due to mental illness and can’t make their own decisions, the court may appoint a guardian for them. The guardian will have similar duties and rights over the incapacitated person as a parent would have over their child. In the event of a divorce, the guardian could request that the court grant a divorce and alimony for the incapacitated spouse.

How to Divorce in Arizona

If you and your spouse want to get a divorce in Arizona, one of you must have lived in the state for at least 90 days. The spouse filing for divorce should file the petition within their county of residence at the Clerk of the Superior Court.

As mentioned, there’s no legal requirement to state a cause for divorce in Arizona, but mental illness and divorce often go hand in hand. 

Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to hire an attorney today.

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