Texas Divorce Laws & Mental Illness

By Anna Assad

Doctor Listening to Patient Talking About Her Medical Symptoms

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Texas laws consider the mental health of both spouses in a divorce case. A spouse's mental condition may be the grounds for the divorce itself. The ill spouse's mental health has an effect on various aspects of the case, including custody decisions and spousal support determinations.

Divorce Grounds

Texas laws recognize fault and no-fault divorces. Mental illness of a spouse is considered one of the fault grounds in Texas; the mentally ill spouse has caused the need for divorce. The mental illness ground applies only if the ill spouse has been confined to a mental hospital for at least three years prior to the divorce filing and has a condition that is unlikely to improve. If the mentally ill spouse is likely to suffer relapses, his spouse may use the mental illness grounds for divorce even if his condition will improve. Other grounds for divorce from a mentally ill spouse may apply if he isn't institutionalized. For example, if a mentally ill spouse's condition causes him to behave cruelly toward his wife, she may file for divorce on the grounds of cruelty.

Conservatorship of Children

The custody --referred to as "conservatorship" in Texas -- of children involved in the divorce may be made by the court or by agreement of both parents. The other parent has the right to ask the court to evaluate the mental health of the ill spouse during custody proceedings. In the case of a mentally ill parent, the court may award the other parent sole managing conservatorship of the children. The children usually live with the parent who has sole managing conservatorship, and she makes all of the decisions regarding them. Texas laws consider the mental health of both parents when deciding conservatorship, as the decision must be made in the children's best interests and to maintain their safety.

Attorney Ad Litem

If the grounds for divorce are a spouse's confinement in a mental hospital, the Texas court will appoint an attorney ad litem to represent him during the divorce proceedings. The attorney ad litem may make decisions for the mentally ill spouse, and she protects his legal interests during the divorce proceedings.

Child and Spousal Support

Both child support and spousal support awards are based partly on the payer's income in Texas. At the time of publication, the child support award for one child is 20 percent of the paying parent's total resources if the resources total below $7,500 each month; the resources include all forms of income but not federal assistance benefits. The state guidelines for child support give the judge flexibility when calculating a child support award. A mentally ill parent who is institutionalized may have no resources to pay child support, but the judge may still award it.

The mentally ill spouse may qualify for spousal support. Texas law allows for the award of alimony to a spouse who can't support himself because of a mental disability.