Divorces can be emotionally difficult as it is. When you add the element of mental health issues, it becomes exponentially more difficult, not only for the other spouse but also for the attorneys and the Judge. Simple issues become contentious and I find myself arguing for positions that may even undermine my credibility. It is one of those situations where you may need to let the judge and/or opposing counsel know about your client’s state of mind so that the judge does not think you are the problem.
In my experience as a family law attorney, I’ve dealt with people battling depression, bipolar disorders and other mental disabilities. Negotiating a settlement with someone suffering from a mental health issue due to the fact that their sense of reality is skewed. In other words, their statement of facts is completely different than what really happened. As attorneys, we want to give our clients the benefit of the doubt and defend their version of the facts. However, when you have several witnesses testifying differently or the facts do not make sense, you may want to re-evaluate your position before you lose credibility with the Judge or the opposing counsel, or worse–get hit with sanctions for lying to the Court or increasing litigation for an improper purpose.
Another issue with divorce clients dealing with mental health issues is controlling their emotions. If the client hires an attorney who is overly aggressive or follows through with the client’s requests for stall tactics or other improper requests, the case can take on a life of its own, causing even more hurt and suffering for the parties and the children involved, especially if they have the money to do so.
The reality is that the court system is not equipped to deal with these types of issues. A judge is bound by the letter of the law and has very limited power in actually helping the parties involved. Today, there are a number of programs attempting to deal with these issues, such as divorce therapists, coaches, parenting coordinators, and other professionals that are creating tools to help people dealing with a high-conflict divorce. They help the clients develop perspective, deflect the conflict, set healthy boundaries, and help the children involved in dealing with an impaired parent. The main goal of these programs is to bring some sort of sanity to all of the parties involved, which in turn makes our lives easier.