Carlsbad Family Law Attorneys

Can I Divorce A Spouse Who Has Mental Illness?

The quick answer is, of course, you can legally end a marriage when a spouse is mentally ill. But the real question is may I end this marriage—i.e. can I give myself permission, ethically, morally to do so.

This question raises several issues. The most important one may be the definition of mental illness. It is very normal for divorce to elicit strong feelings, often negative ones—and for these feelings to change hour by hour, from sadness to anger to guilt or shame et al. It is often typical for divorcing partners to label each other as “bipolar” as they observe and are often the victim of these mercurial feelings. And while rapidly shifting feelings may be one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, an accurate diagnosis includes several other important symptoms and can only be made by a mental health professional. The same is true for the broad category of personality disorders—it is tempting to label a spouse as “a narcissist” if, as is typical during a divorce, they engage in self-centered thinking or behaving. But again, a true personality disorder involves an enduring pattern of behavior, not provoked by a traumatic event, such as divorce. So be careful with “mental illness labels” and try to leave the diagnosis to the professionals.

But what about situations where there is a real diagnosis of mental illness, whether it be depression, psychoses or even schizophrenia? These are usually very serious conditions which greatly affect a persons ability to function in a relationship or on the job. Living with such a spouse can be very difficult, demanding and unsatisfying. One of the most important factors is the spouse’s commitment to start and follow through with appropriate treatment, which usually includes medication. Sometimes patients resist this—particularly with bipolar disorder, patients may balk at medication which moderates their “highs (manic states, which may be pleasurable) as well as the lows (depressive states). Without medication, the bipolar condition will not improve and may get worse over time and the same may be true for depression. Psychotropic drugs can greatly improve these conditions and even very serious disorders like schizophrenia may improve dramatically with appropriate medication, (which may also have negative side effects, such as weight gain). So if your spouse is willing to help himself with appropriate treatment. they and your relationship may improve perhaps, to the point that you are wanting to stay in the marriage. Another option is to consider joint therapy, where both of you participate in learning about and how to handle issues that mental illness presents in the marriage and how to improve the relationship for both of you.

So, of course, the decision is yours, whether or not to continue in a relationship with a partner who has a mental illness. But I think if you are supportive of your partner as they seek treatment, and educate yourself about their prognosis, you will make a decision that you can accept without suffering needless guilt or personal recrimination.

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  • John N. Griffith, Esq., CFLS
  • Catie E. Young, Esq., CFLS
  • Amy J. Lass, Esq., CFLS
  • Shirin Asgari, Esq.
  • Eric Cowdery, Esq.
  • Jeffrey Wittliff, Esq.
  • Joshua Yee, Esq.
  • Shaudi Malekzadeh, Esq.
  • John N. Griffith, Esq., CFLS John N. Griffith, Esq., CFLS

    Partner

    John Griffith has practiced exclusively in the area of family law since 2009. John is a Certified Family Law Specialist certified as an expert in the area of family law by the California Board of Legal Specialization. Prior to opening Griffith, Young & Lass, he worked as the managing partner of one of the largest family law firms in North County San Diego.
    John N. Griffith, Esq., CFLS Photo
  • Catie E. Young, Esq., CFLS Catie E. Young, Esq., CFLS

    Partner

    Catie E. Young excels in child custody cases and move-away trials. She has a unique approach to child custody cases and clients of Griffith, Young & Lass tend to gravitate toward her in these cases. Since joining the firm, she has continuously brought her zeal and compassion to representing clients in child custody and domestic violence cases, and in December 2011, she became a partner at Griffith, Young & Lass.
    Catie E. Young, Esq., CFLS Photo
  • Amy J. Lass, Esq., CFLS Amy J. Lass, Esq., CFLS

    Partner

    Amy Lass, a certified family law specialist, was born in New York and raised in San Diego, California. Amy graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 2003 with a B.S. in Economics with a concentration in Enterprise Accounting. Amy went on to earn her law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law and graduated cum laude in 2006.
    Amy J. Lass, Esq., CFLS Photo
  • Shirin Asgari, Esq. Shirin Asgari, Esq.

    Associate

    Attorney Shirin Asgari has a broad spectrum of legal experience and has handled matters in family law, criminal law, business law, and national security law. Currently, she focuses on family law matters and is a strong advocate for the rights of her clients. She dedicates time and attention to the needs of each client and the unique circumstances their case presents.
    Shirin  Asgari, Esq. Photo
  • Eric Cowdery, Esq. Eric Cowdery, Esq.

    Associate

    Eric Cowdery earned his bachelor’s and Master’s degrees before earning his JD from Golden Gate University as part of the Honors Lawyering Program. He was admitted to the California Bar Association in 2013 and has been working diligently in the field ever since. Taking a personalized approach to each case, Eric Cowdery is committed to working with clients to help them through the often confusing and complex legal process of divorce.

    Eric  Cowdery, Esq. Photo
  • Jeffrey Wittliff, Esq. Jeffrey Wittliff, Esq.

    Associate

    Jeffrey Wittliff is extremely attentive to his cases and believes in thorough preparation and the value of regular client communication. Behind the scenes, he has an extensive background in research related to all areas of family law, propounding discovery when necessary, and negotiation to settle cases with opposing parties.
    Jeffrey  Wittliff, Esq. Photo
  • Joshua Yee, Esq. Joshua Yee, Esq.

    Associate

    Attorney Joshua Yeereceived his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, from the University of California, San Diego. Joshua went on to receive his Juris Doctor degree from University of San Francisco. His experience working with a local Certified Family Law Specialist solidified his desire to become a family law attorney. Since becoming an attorney, Josh has exclusively practiced in family law.
    Joshua  Yee, Esq. Photo
  • Shaudi Malekzadeh, Esq. Shaudi Malekzadeh, Esq.

    Associate

    Shaudi Malekzadeh is a Carlsbad family law attorney at Griffith, Young & Lass, advocating for the rights and interests of Southern California families in a variety of family law cases, such as child custody, alimony, spousal support, and the division of community property. She is committed to delivering effective legal representation to our clients, aggressively advocating for their legal rights, and offering compassionate legal advice.
    Shaudi  Malekzadeh, Esq. Photo

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