Mental Health and Family Law

When I first began practicing, an older, wiser attorney told me that practicing criminal law was dealing with bad people at their best and family law was dealing with good people at their worst. After a couple years doing family law, I realized it was a pretty accurate statement. Most people going through divorces are not bad people (there’s always the exceptions), but they are trying to manage one of the most stressful and emotionally difficult episodes in their lives. It leads to bad decisions, bad behavior and more often than not some amount of anxiety or depression. When you are going through a divorce, you need to be aware of the potential for developing problems with depression or anxiety.

Attorneys and judges who spend any significant amount of time in domestic court aren’t surprised when someone shows symptoms of depression. It’s perfectly understandable. There is no real stigma attached to it either. Just because you are having some problems with depression in the middle of a divorce does not automatically make you a bad parent. The real difference is between those people that admit there is a problem and do something about it and those that either refuse to admit there is a problem or admit it but refuse to do anything about it.

What should you do? First, try to be self-aware. Know what the symptoms of depression are, and give some thought to whether or not you are struggling with the stress you are under. If you are having trouble coping–whether it is just being irritable, or a change in sleeping or eating habits, or an increase in the amount of alcohol you consume, or other changes in the way you get through the day–don’t shrug it off or ratinalize it. Recognize it, admit it, and do something about it.

Second, go get a little counseling. Talk to a psychologist, let the therapist decide whether you are suffering from depression or something else. If nothing else, it will give you someone to talk to about what’s happening to you. Follow your therapists reccomendations for treatment and, if necessary, medication.

Remember, no one who is involved in family law is surprised when one or both parents admits that going through a divorce is tough. Just having a problem doesn’t count against you in Court. What matters is recognizing it and doing something about it. The party who refuses to address a problem with depression or stress and anxiety is only hurting themselves.

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