Addiction is considered a mental health condition in the American Psychological Association’s manual, which is the DSN, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. So, we know that addiction is a mental health disorder. Now, one could argue that there is some degree of choice in engaging in certain behavior that leads to addiction such as alcoholism or drug addiction, which may or may not be the case, and much more often is not the case with mental health conditions such as bi-polar or schizophrenia.
However, in either circumstance you have a parent who is impaired or a person who is impaired by virtue of having a mental health condition. Judges will normally want to know a little bit about the evolution of the disorder before they start entering orders regarding a condition. So, you do have some people who have no history whatsoever of engaging in bad behavior. They don’t have DWI’s in their history. They don’t have any violent behavior while they’re under the influence of a substance, and yet they became depressed and ultimately, fell into the use of a substance. That is often viewed differently than people who simply have a mental health condition. Bi- polar disorder and schizophrenia are not latent disorders; in other words, they don’t manifest themselves typically much later in life. You usually are going to see them around the time that someone becomes an adult. So, typically by the time that two people get together in a marriage there are at least signs of the person’s behavior and the behavior if it has an ill impact on either of the spouse or the children, is not going to be ignored by the court.
But the court is going to question, if you are able to have a relationship with this person and engage in a healthy manner at the inception of your relationship, what has changed now? Has his or her mental health declined now or is it simply a matter that you’re using the change in your relationship and the feelings that you had about this person to exploit the person because he or she has this mental health condition? And that concern is present whether you’re dealing with an addiction to something such as drugs or alcohol, versus a more latent or a more organic condition such as bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia.
Allison C. Williams is a matrimonial and family law attorney serving Short Hills New Jersey. Her practice places an emphasis on complex child welfare matters. www.familylawyersnewjersey.com