Family Law Cases where a party is mentally incompetent

If you have been through a divorce or child custody case involving your child’s other parent you may have stopped to ask yourself at various points in the case whether the opposing party has something “wrong” with him or her. You may have even commented to your attorney that he or she seems to be acting strangely in filing the lawsuit in the first place. It may surprise you to learn that many people involved in family law cases suffer either from mental illness or personalities disorders. While I couldn’t say that you experienced this type of situation it is not uncommon.

What is a personality disorder?

A personality disorder is a medical term that describes people who have exaggerated personality characteristics- to the point where those characteristics begin to dominate who he or she is. Their ability to function on a day to day basis will have become extremely limited as a result. This is opposed to a mental illness which encompasses not only a person’s mental state but also their mood, relations to other people as well as their activities of daily living. The most important aspect of a personality disorder or mental illness is how each of these conditions impacts the lives of the people in the immediate vicinity of the suffering individual. Considering that coming into contact with a mentally ill person on the street can be a challenge, your ability to parent and possibly engage in litigation with one can be extremely taxing.

Characteristics of a person with mental illness or a personality disorder

If you have just been served with a divorce or child custody modification suit seemingly out of nowhere then you may have a mentally ill person or at least an opposing party with a personality disorder as an opposing party. Unfortunately if you identify the traits of a personality disorder sufferer in your child’s other parent you may be in for a long and drawn out case. These folks do not live their lives based on reality or objective fact. Their own sense or right and wrong is shaped by a reality that is only apparent in their own minds.

What kind of behavior can you identify to have a good idea as to whether or not a person has a personality disorder? For starters, if your opposing party has an extremely unbending view of the case and is unwilling to negotiate or move off of his or her previously held opinions that is a strong sign of a person suffering from a personality disorder. While I am not saying that every person who holds strong opinions has a personality disorder, I would say that if you are willing to compromise on a certain issue but have never seen your opposing party be willing to do so that may be time to speak to your attorney.

Another characteristic that I have seen in opposing parties that have mental stability issues is deflection towards their own shortcomings. If your opposing party is volleying accusations at you of being unhinged mentally or dangerous or anything in between this is a deflection method to keep you from identifying their own personality disorders and possible mental illness. If he or she believes they are under attack or threat from you, your attorney or anyone else they can become extremely angry and will say or do anything to protect themselves and their worldview.

Finally, in the world of a person with a mental illness or personality disorder, everything is either black or white. As an attorney we operate in the “grey” in most every case that we are involved in. So you can see from an attorney’s perspective how a person who lives in an all or nothing world can really complicate a divorce or child custody case. Their position is completely right and your position is completely wrong. Your child would be provided with the greatest life known to mankind if allowed to live with him or her. Your child would be doomed to live a life of squalor and difficulty is allowed to live with you primarily. There is nothing in between either extreme with people like this.

Once a case gets moving identifying mental illness in a client or opposing party can be difficult

From an attorney’s perspective it can often times be difficult to pinpoint when something is wrong with a client. Certainly we represent people from all walks of life and backgrounds so it would not be fair, or frankly in our area of expertise, to pick out individuals as being mentally incompetent. As a result, a case is flied and the litigation process begins and the sort of characteristics that we would normally associate with a person who is suffering mentally are not observed in time.

As a result, a mentally incompetent person can file a child custody modification based on perceptions or thoughts that are not based in reality. This is what I meant earlier when I noted that if you’ve been involved in child custody case before you may have stopped and pondered whether or not your opposing party was living in the same world that you were. Judges are not exposed to either you or the other party to a sufficient degree to identify mental incompetency. With all this said a long, drawn out and expensive case can result due to the unchecked behavior of a person who is not healthy from a mental standpoint.

Tomorrow’s blog post: Managing a case with an opposing party who has a mental illness

While being involved in a child custody case where the opposing party has a mental illness is not easy, it can be managed with planning. If you understand how he or she approaches the case then you can set your own expectations appropriately. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will continue to discuss this subject with you in tomorrow’s blog post.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about opposing parties with mental illness or personality disorders please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys are available six days a week to speak to you about your case and to answer any questions you have in a free of charge consultation.


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