When working with a client going through the often difficult process of divorce, taking any mental health concerns into consideration is critically important, especially when the issues include custody and parenting time.
Whether you represent the client who has always been the primary caretaker of the children, or the party who has not historically played that role but now thinks that he or she should take on that role, making sure your client’s mental health is in “good shape” almost always pays off. Keep in mind that anger, depression and fear are common emotions that your client may be confronting during this difficult time, all of which can have an impact on his or her ability to best parent the children.
In almost every case in which these issues arise, you should consider asking your client if he or she is in therapy. If the answer is no, suggest that they consider doing so. Keeping a list of therapists nearby so you can make a referral if asked is usually a good idea. If your client questions why you would make this suggestion, you may want to explain that this is likely going to be a difficult process, and having a support system such as a therapist in place, can be tremendously helpful in getting them through this time in their life. If your client fears that this may “look bad,” you can assure them that, in your experience, being in therapy is usually seen as a positive by professionals who are investigating one’s custodial situation.
If your client is being accused of mental health issues but denies having any problems, that is oftentimes a “red flag” that they truly may need help. Sometimes, the client who presents most impeccably is masking a problem. Regardless, no parent will be discredited for getting help for themselves, but the parent who does not get help may be adversely affected during the divorce process.
I have been involved in cases where one side’s description of the other’s behavior sounds “crazy”. Often, if it sounds crazy, it is crazy. Sometimes, one party has been living with dysfunction for so long that they do not recognize that anything may be amiss nor did they comprehend how much this dysfunction had contributed to the deterioration of the marriage. It is not until the client sits down with you, an outsider, to start describing the personal details of their life that they first realize how significantly the dysfunction my have contributed to their marital misfortunes.
And while mental health issues usually have the most relevance in custody cases, mental health concerns also can have an impact in the financial arena as well. In those situations, a client’s mental health may prevent them from dealing with issues rationally and making decisions. These clients often tend to be overly litigious or to make unreasonable demands merely because they are not looking at things logically. A mental health professional may be of great help keep to you when you are trying to work through this process with your client.
At the end of the day, is every person in need of mental health treatment? Certainly not. But in the context of a difficult divorce, more often than not they are. As their lawyer and counselor during this process, you will be able to give better guidance by recognizing the impact these issues may have on your client will help you give better guidance as you take them through this challenging time in their life.