A spouse's mental health may impact various areas of a divorce proceeding in Pennsylvania, including the divorce grounds, custody awards and support calculations. A mentally ill spouse still has rights during the divorce; the other spouse must consider his mental state when going through the court process for divorce.
Pennsylvania allows for fault and no fault divorces. A fault divorce is when one spouse caused the breakdown of the marriage, such as committing adultery. A no-fault divorce means neither spouse created the need for divorce. Divorcing a mentally ill person in Pennsylvania may fall under either type, depending on whether the spouse is institutionalized due to the disorder. If the mentally ill spouse has been in an institution for at least the last 18 months and is expected to remain there for another 18 months or more, the other spouse may file for a no-fault divorce on these grounds. If the mentally ill spouse isn't institutionalized, the other spouse may file for a fault divorce on the grounds the ill spouse has made her life unbearable, or any other grounds that apply such as irreconcilable differences.
When deciding custody, Pennsylvania law takes various factors into account such as the physical health of both parents and the past parenting duties of each parent. However, the child's safety is a primary concern -- and the court does take the mental health of each parent into account. While a mentally ill parent may retain a form of visitation, the other parent may receive both physical and legal custody of any children of the marriage because of the mentally ill parent's condition.
Child Support and Alimony
Child support and alimony awards are affected by the mental health of the paying spouse in Pennsylvania. A spouse with a mental illness may not be able to work or have limited income due to his mental state. The court may deviate from traditional support guidelines because of the spouse's mental health. Pennsylvania has a fixed self-support reserve amount for alimony and child support awards; the reserve is the amount of money the payer must have left over each month to cover his own needs after paying support. At the time of publication, the paying spouse must have at least $867 in income each month for his own needs.
If the mentally ill spouse's condition has rendered him incompetent, he may need a legal guardian to represent him in the divorce proceedings. A court-appointed legal guardian of the spouse has the authority to act for the mentally ill spouse. Depending on the powers the guardian has, he may have to sign all documents and make all decisions for the mentally ill spouse during the divorce proceedings.
References & Resources
- WomensLaw.org: Divorce (Pennsylvania)
- Law Help.Org: Divorce Law in Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania General Assembly: Factors to Consider When Awarding Custody
- Pennsylvania General Assembly: Alimony and Support
- The Pennsylvania Code: Amount of Support. Support Guidelines.
- Pennsylvania Family Law: New Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines
- Divorce Source: Rights of Incompetent Spouses as Defendants
- Erie County, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Handbook For Guardians of Incapacitated Persons
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