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Mental Illness, Drugs, and Alcohol

Mental Illness, Drugs, and Alcohol

By Jeff J. Horn – Divorce Attorney

Mental Illness, Drugs, and Alcohol

Mental Illness, Addiction, Depression, Stress, Anxiety, Divorce, Judges, Lawyers, Custody, Parenting Time, Recovery, Relapse, Imputed Income Awareness of these issues is essential in regards to marital discord and divorce. Learn more about how these issues can impact the court and how recovery is possible.

Mental illness and addiction are rampant in our society.  Marital discord is a trigger for bad behavior linked to mental illness and addiction.  The divorce is a canvas upon which the mentally ill or addicted will inevitably attempt to make their mark.  Preaching on these topics is not the intent of this book, but awareness of these issues is essential.

Mental Illness

Mental illness can be paralyzing to the patient, the spouse, the lawyers, and the court.  Judges work with proof.  Lawyers present the proof to the judge and spin it in a manner most favorable to their client.  Lawyers also take their client’s story and try to convince the judge that the story is proof.  Most stories about mental illness are a blend of observations and lay opinion.  A person suffering with mental illness has difficulty maintaining employment or employment at full capacity, difficulty in making sound parental decisions, and the mistrust attendant to the divorce creeping into the attitude of the other spouse in connection with your parental decision-making.  

Judges, Mental Illness, and Drugs

Judges are middle-aged, middle-classed white men.  Many of their families have been touched by alcoholism and some may have pushed the limits of drinking themselves.  Alcohol abuse will not scare them off.  Commonly diagnosed illnesses such as panic attacks, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder will likewise not impress the judge’s decision-making.  However, the use of illicit drugs, particularly hardcore drugs such as cocaine or heroin usage, positive drug tests during the case, drug related arrests, drug related convictions, and the expenditure of family funds on drug purchases, all will impact the case.  From a judge’s perspective, a positive drug test during the case will doom that person to low credibility and close scrutiny in dealing with the issues of custody and parenting time. Convincing the judge that illicit drug use does not translate to bad parenting is a difficult chore.  

Recovery from Mental Illness

Addicted and mentally-ill divorcers can recover.  Conclusion of the divorce can result in the newly divorced person truly starting over a new life committed to managing addiction or mental illness.  Otherwise, the divorcer with an active addiction or in recovery can be driven to binge activity or a relapse.

When you have a “slip” or relapse, your recovery takes a step backwards.  Relapse, it is well accepted, is a part of the recovery process.  Relapse means starting over on the endless recovery journey, one day at a time.  You are unable to force or schedule recovery.  Enduring the divorce process shares similarities with recovery.  Neither is totally predictable, both are painful, and neither has a firm end-date.

Depression, Stress, and Anxiety

Depression, stress, and anxiety afflicts every one of us.  How we handle it, how long we suffer, and the extent the depression, stress, and anxiety impacts our conduct is the key.  Asserting that the other side is mentally ill with the usual popular disorders is not enough.  If someone is depressed, stressed, or anxious and using commonly accepted treatments like therapy and psychotropic medications, the court will not mechanically deprive the sufferer of parenting time or conclude the person lacks credibility.  Society and courts are now more accepting of these maladies and see the distinction between treatable conditions and process anger.

How Much Can a Mentally Ill Spouse Earn?

Dividing income so that both parties can survive and hopefully maintain a decent life similar to what was enjoyed during the marriage is fundamental.  Mental illness may prevent a person from earning any income or earning income comparable to what they would ordinarily be capable of earning.  Courts are empowered to impute income based upon the person’s skill level and statistical analysis of earnings in a given profession. 


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Thanks to Horn Law Group, LLC intern Noah Hilsdorf.