Family Law

Grounds for Divorce: Insanity

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When someone files for divorce, a basic requirement is stating a valid legal reason for the divorce. Mental illness or insanity of your spouse is one such reason or grounds for divorce. In most states, the grounds of mental illness is grouped with other fault-based grounds for divorce. A few other states include mental illness within no-fault divorce laws.

Find out the basics about mental illness or insanity as a reason for divorce, and what it could mean in your divorce.

Mental Illness as a Reason for Divorce

The terms used to describe fault grounds for divorce based on a spouse's mental condition include:

  • Mental illness
  • Insanity
  • Mental incompetence

Even though a state law may group mental illness with fault grounds, this reason is different from other fault-based grounds, such as adultery or cruelty. When mental illness grounds are claimed, there's no finding of your spouse's wrongdoing.

Laws allowing grounds based on mental illness or insanity are fairly recent, dating to the early 20th Century. Why? The law places duties on spouses when they marry, and one is the duty to care for and support your spouse, even if he or she is ill.

Using and Proving Mental Illness Grounds

When you file for divorce, you have to prove elements of your case, including grounds. State laws vary, and you can expect you'll have to show:

  • Your spouse's insanity or mental illness is declared, incurable, or both
  • The condition has lasted a minimum period (in several states, it's five or more years)

Gathering evidence or testimony to prove your case, and avoid dismissal, can be a challenge. Expert testimony and medical or psychiatric records may be required. Proof of institutional or inpatient care may be required as well. Proving a spouse's mental condition and that the condition is incurable are reasons why grounds of insanity are seldom used.

It's also important to know that state law may not relieve you of the duty to support your spouse.

Making the decision to divorce is never easy, let alone using the grounds of insanity or mental illness. Working with your divorce lawyer becomes all the more important, allowing you to make an informed decision about how to handle your divorce.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does my spouse's mental condition have the same effect on our divorce whether or not I base the divorce on grounds of insanity?
  • My spouse has a mental condition, so who represents her interests in the divorce?
  • Can spousal support awards be changed or ended if my spouse recovers from his mental illness someday?

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