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Discussions surrounding mental health have become increasingly common and while this has helped to reduce stigma, it has not gone away completely. However, it is an important topic for many people involved in a family law matter.

You might have questions such as, what role does mental health play in family law matters? Will your ex-spouse’s struggles or your struggles with mental health and/or mental health diagnosis will be relevant to the issues of parenting-time and decision-making responsibility? Are you worried that you will be at a disadvantage due to mental health struggles? Does mental health play a role in family law litigation more generally?

The prevalence of mental health challenges in people involved in family law matters is unsurprisingly, higher than in the general population. What this means is that if someone is involved in legal matters related to separating from their spouse, they or their spouse are more likely to be experiencing mental health challenges than an individual taken at random from people not involved in a family law matter. This is particularly true for high conflict family law matters.

This does not mean that the person with mental health challenges is the cause of the breakdown in the relationship; or that they are guaranteed to be driving the conflict in the matter. There is a far more nuanced and complex interaction between mental health and family law matters.

It may be that the breakdown of the relationship has led to, or exacerbated your mental health challenges. Separation is a highly stressful process, it involves significant life changes, often there is grief, financial implications and other significant adjustments. These circumstances can in-turn result in poorer sleep, loss of routine, less time dedicated to enjoyable activities and fewer resources, financial and otherwise for healthy habits. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that the process can take a toll on one’s mental health.

Given that a family law matter can take time to conclude, it becomes even more important to seek support and resources to mitigate the potential negative impact on your mental health. You may wish to engage with counseling; ensure you remain connected with sources of support, such as friends, family and community; and continue to take time to care for yourself. It is when we feel least able to do these things that they are often the most important.

Experiencing mental health challenges also does not mean you are not fit to parent or that your ability to parent is negatively impacted. What is important is that you take the necessary steps to consistently manage your mental health. Depending on what mental health challenges you are facing, this may involve continuing with your pre-existing treatment plans, or engaging additional supports while the family law matter is ongoing, and it may include working with your health care team to ensure you are on the best medication for you so that it is effective and any side effects are as minimal as possible.

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