Understanding Whether a Mental Health Diagnosis can affect Divorce Outcomes
There is no question divorce is one of the most stressful life events one can experience. The journey may become even more daunting if you are also dealing with a mental health diagnosis. If you are affected by a mental health diagnosis, rest assured you are not alone. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.
Whether just starting your path to divorce or being deep in the trenches, you may question whether your mental health status can be held against you. You may wonder if the courts will be biassed towards you, if it will affect support payments and if your diagnosis could cost you custody of your children. The good news is that a mental health diagnosis is not solely determinative of the outcome to these questions.
In terms of support awards, you may be concerned if you cannot work due to your diagnosis and are receiving Social Security. Social Security Disability (SSD) and Social Security Income (SSI) are treated differently. Pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. Rule 1910.16-2(a),SSD payments are considered income when calculating support amounts. Pa. R.C.P. Rule 1910.16-2(b), on the other hand, states that Social Security Income (SSI) payments are not includable as income for support purposes.
In terms of custody, 23 Pa.C.S. §5328 (a) lists the sixteen (16) factors to be considered when awarding custody. One of those factors (number 15) considers “The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.” Therefore, the mental health diagnosis is but one factor for the court to consider in deciding custody.
Dealing with a divorce may seem overwhelming. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to seek out help from professionals to assist you both legally and emotionally. It is also paramount that you remember to take care of yourself throughout the process.