J.D. Harvard Law School ‘73
M.A. Columbia University
B.A. Yale University
Mediator, Judge Pro-Tem
Certified Family Law Specialist
licensed by the State Bar of California
Stan is a member of the
San Diego North County Bar Association.
Licensed to practice in California, Maryland, Washington D.C., & Georgia
Mental illness is a factor in many divorces. Addiction probably tops the list, starting with alcoholism. Other frequently appearing addictions are illegal and legal drugs, pornography, and gambling. After addiction comes serious depression, then the uncontrollable behavior of people with bipolar disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorder and dependency issues are fairly common. Military divorces often involve a combat veteran's post- traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Some form of mental illness usually drives every "high conflict case" in which the parties battle forever over everything.
Law school does not train lawyers to deal with mental illness. However, divorce lawyers are gradually becoming more aware of the pervasiveness and importance of mental illness in their specialty. Mental illness may impair a client's judgment and ability to reason. If the impairment makes it impossible for the client to understand the attorney's counsel and follow the attorney's advice, the attorney is faced with a difficult choice.
When a unimpaired person understands what you're telling him but refuses to follow your advice, you should simply terminate the attorney client relationship. When a mentally ill person does the same, does some higher duty require an attorney to carry on with the case? If the attorney concludes that his client is incompetent, what does the attorney do? Ask the court to appoint a guardian, when the client will probably fire the attorney for even suggesting it's appropriate?
These are difficult questions with no good answers. Unfortunately they will arise with increasing frequency in the future as the medical community continues to reclassify as mental illness behaviors that people previously endured in others with no thought that they needed therapy sessions or drugs. You were either sane or insane, and very few people were placed in the latter category. These days you're either unimpaired or mentally ill, and the unimpaired seem to be in danger of extinction.
San Diego Divorce Attorney Stanley D. Prowse is a California Certified Family Law Specialist. We welcome your legal inquiries.