Any marriage can fail, but throw mental illness into the mix of marital stressors, and the risk of marital failure increases. Problems such as depression and alcohol addiction can create instability in the home that makes sustaining the marriage difficult or impossible.
The traditional divorce process, which is based upon rights and obligations as established through laws, often has a blind spot when it comes to dealing with mental health. Rather than focusing on treatment and accommodation of the illness, the court-based process often pits spouses against each other, with each trying to demonstrate how the other is at fault, and with the children too frequently caught in the crossfire.
The collaborative divorce process recognizes that going through a divorce is akin to doing surgery on a family. Just as a surgeon works to remove diseased tissue without damaging the surrounding organs, we, as divorce professionals, want to separate the spouses without doing any more damage to the family than is necessary to get the job done. Rather than focusing on fault, the collaborative divorce process helps the divorcing couple focus on their needs and those of their children. The professional team, including lawyers, a financial professional, and a mental health professional, helps the couple focus their energies on problem-solving, instead of finger-pointing. If a spouse suffers from mental illness, the mental health professional can meet individually with that spouse to find out about the problem, and can either work directly with the person’s therapist to better understand the mental health issues, or refer the person to a therapist or psychiatrist who has the tools to assist the patient and, in so doing, improve the life of the family post-divorce. That information is then conveyed to the other professional team members, who can take it into account along with financial and other information in assisting their clients to fashion a workable settlement. This shift from blame to healing involves the lawyers, who, rather than digging up dirt, can use their experience, intelligence, and creativity to help the couple craft solutions to the problems posed by dividing the household. While we focus on protecting the interests of our own clients, we also keep our attention on the health of the family. Our advocacy includes helping our clients understand how different settlement options may benefit the children, which, in turn, benefits the parents. Mental illness can be frightening and often presents substantial challenges to a family. Employing a problem-solving approach to mental illness can soften the worst effects of divorce and can hasten the healing that follows the trauma of divorce.
Alan Freed is an experienced mediator and collaborative law professional practicing in St. Louis, Missouri. Alan works hard to help his clients divorce with the least amount of trauma to the family as possible. Reach out to Alan to discuss your divorce options and how you and your spouse can divorce amicably.