Collaborative Family Law

Collaborative Family Law for Cases involving Mental Health Issues in Charleston SC

In a recent Charleston Family Law consultation, the prospective client was newly separated from her mentally ill spouse and wanted to use Collaborative Practice to help her family reach resolution.

Mental health issues are endemic in Divorce cases and Charleston Family Law is no exception. Some forms of mental illness are too unpredictable for any process short of litigation.  However, Collaborative Practice is ideal for many cases involving persons with mental illness because it is an interdisciplinary team approach and includes mental health professionals as an integral part of the team.

Collaborative processes also help parties avoid the extra financial and emotional stress that are integral to litigation and which can overwhelm even those who do not suffer from mental illness.  Note also that allegations of narcissism, personality disorder, bi-polar illness can be manipulated to get leverage in custody litigation.

Ask the following questions to decide if a Collaborative Process is appropriate for the case involving mental health issues:

  1. Does the person with the alleged mental illness acknowledge it?  When a mom or dad alleged to suffer from mental illness is receiving treatment, this means they acknowledge the issue and chances are good that they will follow the advice of mental health professionals involved in their Collaborative Law case.  In my case, the couple had been in long term counseling.
  2. Is the person with the mental illness gainfully employed? When a person with a mental illness is gainfully employed it usually means that their illness is being appropriately treated and they are functioning reasonably well.  This also assumes the person is managing their job responsibilities and their family responsibilities. In my case, Husband was employed.
  3. Is the person engaged in life? Even if the person with mental illness is not working, if they have appropriate self-care/therapy/medical compliance and friend/family relationships, they can be said to be engaged in life and are not consumed by their illness. These people are capable of contributing to and benefitting from a Collaborative Practice team approach. In my case, Husband was engaged in life.
  4. Is the person capable of handling more stress?  This is an important question regardless of the legal process they use to resolve the issues.  Litigation will be more stressful than other processes and should be avoided if possible.  If the person can make sound decisions with appropriate caring for family members and  is likely to follow the recommendations of  mental health professional(s) on the Collaborative team, it probably makes sense to go with the least contentious process possible.

There are no hard and fast rules, but…  a careful examination of the answers to these questions should help clarify whether or not the parties in a case which includes mental health issues can be accountable to a Collaborative Process.  If they can, the team approach, including mental health professionals, is likely to provide the safety, structure and outcome that will be healthiest for all members of the family and their future relationships.

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