There are many reasons people find themselves in a family law matter, but unfortunately, such issues are frequently due to an impairment of one of the parties. Regardless of whether the impairment is from an untreated mental health issue or substance abuse, the impact on the family is the same—chaos, confusion, and fear.
People living in these situations are often surprised to realize things have gotten as bad as they have, and many more are embarrassed to ask for help. We are experienced in providing support and legal guidance in these types of cases. If you think you are experiencing these issues with your partner or co-parent, there are steps you can take to protect yourself, your children, and your future.
Substance Abuse & Addiction
Substance abuse is one of the most common causes of family destruction, marital unhappiness, and problems in every other area of the impaired person’s life. A person with a severe chemical dependency is rarely able to function effectively in a marriage or as a parent. They are unable to prioritize anything above their addiction, including their children, marriage, job, or finances.
When faced with someone who has an addiction, it’s vital to have healthy boundaries, an understanding of what you’re up against, and a plan of action. Sometimes, people with substance abuse issues don’t present as impaired when they are under the influence, so you must educate yourself about the tools and resources available.
Our team is experienced in dealing with substance abuse issues and the impact these issues may have on the entire family system. We can guide you on what legal steps should be taken in a crisis, as well as what a long-term plan may look like for your family and your peace of mind. Unfortunately, no one can force an addict to accept help, but we can provide support to those impacted.
Impacts of Substance Abuse
Regardless of whether an addiction surfaces before or during a case, the addiction will significantly impact your case. It only takes one conviction—even one that occurred many years before the legal battle—to raise a red flag about one’s ability to provide a safe environment for their kids or to act responsibly.
In custody cases, concern about substance abuse is heightened, and according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “more than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems.” Once someone alleges alcohol or drug abuse, it is up to the judge to determine what possession, decision making, and safety protocols are appropriate. Parents with substance abuse issues are generally not given unrestricted access to their children unless they can show that they are in an ongoing recovery program, they’re monitored and/or frequently tested, and access is appropriate and in the best interest of the children. Often, mental health professionals will also assist in facilitating or assessing the relationships in the family.
If you are suffering from a drug or alcohol dependency issue and are in need of legal support, we can help. You may be afraid to reach out and ask for assistance, and you may feel alone in your struggle, but we have helped many people in your position. The stigma regarding needing help has been lifted, and courts want to see that parents are actively seeking the help they need. There are myriad assessments, treatments, and ongoing monitoring options for individuals and families that we can recommend based on your family’s situation.
Driving While Intoxicated
Being arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) may reflect poorly on one’s ability to act in the best interests of their children, act responsibly, or provide a safe environment. Under Texas law, parents are encouraged to share the responsibilities and pleasures of parenthood; this includes providing a safe and stable environment for the children.
If DWI charges are pending, the conviction was recent, or if a parent has more than one conviction, this could negatively impact that parent’s credibility and the outcome of their case. Courts strongly consider the impact of a parent’s impairment when making decisions for children. The parent without a DWI may request Sole Managing Conservatorship on the basis that the parent with the DWI history cannot provide a safe or stable environment for the children and is, therefore, unable to act in the best interests of the children. If substance abuse and the associated consequences of substance abuse factor in your case, you should consult with an attorney experienced in this sensitive area of family law.
Inexperienced attorneys may focus solely on substance abuse allegations when developing a legal plan and ignore other factors the court will consider when determining what is in the best interest of the children, leaving you vulnerable to countermeasures by opposing counsel. Protect your family. The attorneys at Walters Gilbreath, PLLC are skilled in finding the weaknesses your case may have so they’re not used against you.
Mental Health & Medical Records
You may wonder if your medical records will be relevant if you go through a divorce or child custody case. Many people assume that HIPAA and doctor-patient privilege protect all mental health and physical health records from disclosure. However, there are specific instances in which medical and mental health information is relevant and can be disclosed—there are also instances in which the opposite is true. There are various ways this information can be obtained in a divorce or custody case, and there are ways to advocate for you while protecting your privacy.
If you are worried about something in your medical or mental health history and the impact it may have on your case, you should discuss your history with an attorney to determine the best way to handle your situation.
If you are seeking information about your spouse or your child’s parent, it is important to work with an attorney skilled not only in obtaining the records necessary but also in ensuring the information is appropriately collected and can be used in any hearings or trials.
Mental Health Impairments
More often than not, cases involving high-conflict litigation typically have one parent with a personality disorder or other mental health impairment. Three of the most common disorders we encounter are narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and anxiety.
Finding relief from these relationships can be one of the most emotionally challenging (and sometimes even dangerous) processes you go through, and we will be with you every step of the way.
Some divorces or custody cases begin because one party believes the other is suffering from a mental health issue. Many more discover the existence of an issue during litigation. Sometimes a spouse will know something is wrong, but won’t know what. Other times, they may know of a diagnosis or have information from a marriage therapist that gives them some insight into what they are experiencing. Either way, not knowing where to turn and what to expect in your case can feel overwhelming. Clients often describe living or co-parenting with someone who has a mental health diagnosis as living in a constant state of “walking on eggshells.” Many more worry no one will believe their story or that—because the other spouse can present as charming and likable—the dangerous spouse will be able to effectively lie to the court, psychological evaluators, and mental health providers.
If you know or believe your spouse or co-parent is suffering from a mental health disorder, it’s essential to address your concerns with the appropriate professionals to determine how this impairment impacts that parent’s ability to parent.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis likely has characteristics that can negatively impact families and children. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V), the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder includes a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. These criteria typically show up by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by the presence of at least five of the following nine criteria:
- Grandiose sense of self-importance;
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love;
- Belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions;
- Need for excessive admiration;
- Sense of entitlement;
- Interpersonally exploitive behavior;
- Lack of empathy;
- Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her; or
- A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. People with this disorder may:
- Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance;
- Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration;
- Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it;
- Exaggerate achievements and talents;
- Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate;
- Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people;
- Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior;
- Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations;
- Take advantage of others to get what they want;
- Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others;
- Be envious of others and believe others envy them;
- Behave arrogantly or haughtily, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious; or
- Insist on having the best of everything.
When facing criticism (or anything perceived as critical) people with narcissistic personality disorder may:
- Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment;
- Feel slighted;
- React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior;
- Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior;
- Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change;
- Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection; or
- Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, or humiliation.
If you believe your marriage or your children are impacted by someone that exhibits these issues, it is important to seek help not only for the person with the mental health disorder but also for yourself and your children. The stigma regarding mental health has lifted, but to be considered productive and healthy, courts expect parents to obtain the help and treatment they need.
Borderline Personality Disorder
When untreated, borderline personality disorder can turn an otherwise loving home into a frightening or even dangerous situation. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V), the criteria of borderline personality disorder includes a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behaviors;
- Patterns of intense, unstable, interpersonal relationships that alternate between extreme idealization and devaluation;
- Identity disturbances: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self;
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating), not including suicidal or self-mutilating behavior;
- Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior;
- Instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days);
- Chronic feelings of emptiness;
- Inappropriate flares of intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant aggression, recurrent physical fights); or
- Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you may see the following behaviors in someone with a borderline personality disorder diagnosis:
- Intense fears of abandonment, even going to extreme measures to avoid real or imagined separation or rejection;
- Patterns of intense, unstable relationships, (e.g., idealizing someone one moment and then suddenly believing the person doesn’t care enough or is cruel);
- Rapid changes in self-identity and self-image that include shifting goals and values, and seeing oneself as inadequate or nonexistent;
- Periods of stress-related paranoia and loss of contact with reality, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours;
- Impulsive and risky behaviors, (e.g., gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, spending sprees, binge eating, drug abuse, or self-sabotage by suddenly quitting a good job or ending a positive relationship);
- Suicidal threats or behaviors, or self-injury, often in response to fear of separation or rejection;
- Mood swings lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, irritability, shame, or anxiety;
- Ongoing feelings of emptiness; or
- Inappropriate, intense anger (e.g., frequently aggressive, sarcastic or bitter, or having physical fights).
Even if an individual does not meet five of the criteria warranting a diagnosis, the individual may have traits of borderline personality disorder that negatively impact their relationships, including those with their children or spouse. When left untreated, an otherwise safe and healthy environment can be a dangerous place. Don’t live in fear of how a loved one may react, hire a lawyer and turn your home into a place of comfort rather than chaos.
In a divorce, the spouse with an anxiety disorder may feel like they are unable to control neither their nor their child’s environment. The stress associated with this environmental shift is often enough to exacerbate the underlying disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V), the criteria for an anxiety disorder includes:
- Excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for at least six months, about several events or activities (such as work or school performance);
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry;
- Anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms being present for more days than not over the course of 6 months—for children, only one of the following symptoms is required:
– Difficulty concentrating;
– Irritability; or
– Muscle tension;
- Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep).
- Anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms causing clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other essential areas of life; or
- Evidence that the anxiety is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition or disorder (e.g., hyperthyroidism or agoraphobia).
- According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of anxiety disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. Common signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense;
- A sense of impending danger, panic, or doom;
- Increased heart rate;
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilation);
- Fatigue or weakness;
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry;
- Difficulty sleeping;
- Gastrointestinal (GI) problems;
- Difficulty controlling worry; or
- An urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety.
In its more severe forms, anxiety can prevent someone from completing their normal routine and create an unstable home environment. When dealing with anxiety, it is important to treat it before it intensifies and impacts those around you. If you or your spouse experience anxiety, seek help from a mental health professional and find a lawyer that is understanding of your needs and concerns, like the experienced attorneys here at Walters Gilbreath, PLLC.
What to Do If Your Spouse Has a Mental Health Disorder
Dealing with someone who has a mental health impairment is similar to dealing with someone who has a substance abuse issue: it is up to the impaired person to accept help and do the work to improve their situation. You can be supportive, but you can’t change them, and you can’t force them to seek or accept help. What you can do is protect yourself and protect your children. Sometimes, that means going through a difficult divorce for the sake of your family’s health and wellbeing.
Look online, read resources, talk to your therapist, or reach out to those in your support system. If you’re in the unfortunate situation of dealing with a spouse who has a personality disorder, you are not alone. There are resources out there for you. Arm yourself with knowledge and contact us when you’re ready to take the next step.