Common Mental Health Conditions Affecting Custody and Asset Division

In resolving child-custody issues, the primary consideration is the best interests and welfare of the child. The mental health of the parents is one of the many factors which courts consider in determining an award of custody. The following are a list of some of the mental health disorders which have been relevant in determining custody. As always, consult your local jurisprudence for applicability.

Schizophrenia: It is a psychotic disorder per the DSM-IV characterized by altered mental processes and emotional responses. Typical symptoms are auditory hallucinations, paranoid or abnormal delusions, and seemingly disorganized speech. It often results in social and occupational difficulty with onset typically occurring in young adulthood.

Manic Depression: Is a mood disorder per the DSM-IV otherwise known as bi-polar disorder where by the person alternates between periods of frenzied behavior, or mania, and periods of depression. Mania is characterized by an intense high where the person feels euphoric, almost indestructible in areas such as personal finances, business dealings, or relationships. In more severe cases, the manic and depressive symptoms cause noticeable impairment of social and occupational functioning.

Depression including suicide attempts: Again, depression is a mood disorder in the DSM-IV. While mild depression is normal, and can result from life events such as the death of a loved one, medications, and even diseases, major depressive disorder is usually characterized by a depression lasting longer than two weeks. Symptoms include sadness, anxiety, feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, helpless, worthlessness, and guilt. Affected persons may derive no enjoyment from activities which formerly were pleasurable, experience loss of appetite or overeating, have problems concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions, and may contemplate or attempt suicide. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, or aches, pains, and digestive problems may also persist.

Paranoia: In common parlance, it is most connected to paranoid personality disorder in the DSM-IV (or paranoid schizophrenia). It is characterized by a pervasive and long lasting distrust of others including an irrational belief that others are plotting against them. This type of person often feels slighted easily and is an eager listener for signs or potential signs of danger at the expense of other evidence.

Obsessive-compulsive: It is classified as an anxiety disorder by the DSM-IV. The key features of this disorder include obsessions (persistent and often irrational) and compulsions which are used to neutralize the obsessions. In order to qualify as obsessive-compulsive the urges and corresponding behavior must be disruptive to functioning in everyday life.

Passive-aggressive: It is listed in Appendix B of the DSM-IV as it was formerly an Axis II personality disorder in the DSM-III-R. Typically it is associated with a repetitive pattern of negative attitudes and resistance to meeting societal and occupational expectations. Typical behaviors may include extreme procrastination, resentment, hostile joking, sullenness or even refusal to complete assigned tasks.

Emotional instability including suicide attempts and Emotional instability requiring hospitalization or psychiatric care: Otherwise listed as Borderline Personality Disorder in the DSM-IV. Typically by early adulthood the person has exhibited a pattern of intense fears of abandonment resulting in extremely clingy behavior cycled with anger and withdrawal from the same relationships. The person will then repeat the process coming back to the same persons feeling helpless and clingy again. This can result in suicidal behavior or self-mutilation.

Other mental illnesses such as obsessive gambling, delusions (strongly held beliefs or convictions despite actual evidence to the contrary), hallucinatory behavior, (perception of stimuli in the absence of actual stimulus), hypochondria (persistent fear of serious medical illness), alcoholism, drug addiction, severe epilepsy have influenced courts in custody determinations.

It is also important to keep in mind that a diagnosis of one of the mental illnesses or disorders listed above is not the end all of a custody dispute. Courts have also granted custody for parent with these illnesses because the standard is ultimately what is in the best interests of the child.

o Schizophrenia

o Manic depression

o Depression including suicide attempts

o Emotional instability

o Anxiety

Mental health diagnoses can also be relevant to the division of marital assets. Typically though, mental health is not as prevalent a factor in division of assets as it can be when conducting a best interests of the child analysis. Mental illness in terms of asset division is often analyzed to the extent that it correlates with dependency and income producing capacity. This in turn will be examined in conjunction with the duration of the marriage and in a few states marital misconduct.

Keywords: Mental Health Conditions, DSM, Child Custody, Asset Division