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Schizophrenia and Divorce

High Conflict Divorce Situations

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Schizophrenia and Divorce

Schizophrenia can wreak havoc on an individual and a family. The symptoms of the disorder can be so difficult to manage and live with that many people with Schizophrenia get divorced.

There are three types of symptoms that all contribute to Schizophrenia and Divorce.

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms refer to the symptoms that result in a negative activity level, as the name would suggest. These factors involve lack of motivation and emotions, and other disinterest related to the condition. Usually, people will experience things like:

  • Lack of motivation or difficulty planning and starting activities, even including daily living and hygiene tasks
  • Less pleasure (or no pleasure) derived from everyday life and activities that were once enjoyed
  • Withdrawn with less speaking and conversational engagement
  • A “flat affect”, or emotionless voice and reduced or no emotion in their behaviors or facial expressions
  • Difficulty showing emotions and engaging socially
  • Apathy or inability to follow through on obligations, tasks, and even hobbies or enjoyable activities

Basically, any apathy or lack of doing in their daily lives that is related to this disorder could be classified as a symptom. When people are plagued by the psychosis (which we’ll discuss in a moment), it can be difficult to maintain energy levels or interest in much of anything because of the stress and uncertainty.

Psychotic (Positive) Symptoms

These symptoms typically include abnormal behaviors, unusual thinking patterns, and altered perceptions, including changes in vision or other senses. This list includes symptoms that are only found in those with schizophrenia and no other mental health disorders. These are the more obvious symptoms that most people think of when they hear the term ‘schizophrenia’ and include:

  • Hallucinations, such as seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there
  • Delusions, and paranoia that are not supported by fact, but are very real and very firmly held by the individual
  • Thought disorder, including disorganized speech and thinking, unusual thought processes, and more
  • Bizarre behaviors that cannot otherwise be explained or classified

The psychotic symptoms may be more or less extreme, depending on the individual, but they are usually far more noticeable than the other behavioral changes that come with schizophrenia. If left untreated, these people could continue to devolve into their own little world, creating an even bigger need for a treatment plan.

Cognitive Symptoms

These are the symptoms that are marked by cognitive impairment or mental dysfunction. Some people may have more pronounced symptoms in this area, while others might not have as much that they can relate to. Specifically, you’ll find symptoms like:

  • Difficulty processing information and using that information to make decisions
  • Trouble paying attention or focusing on day-to-day activities, including work, school, hobbies, family life, and social interactions
  • Problems with information retention and short-term memory recall
  • Other marked mental or cognitive impairments that result from the distracted or altered reality that these individuals sometimes create or live in

Mental health and personality disorders each have their own stress response, but they do all respond to stress with an increase in symptoms or episodes of certain behaviors. In the case of those with schizophrenia, their dissociative state may become even more exacerbated or they may spend more time in their hallucinations and delusions as a way to escape the stress.
These people have trouble establishing social connections and intimate relationships because of their paranoia and fear, so if they have managed to find marriage, divorce is a common outcome. Spouses do not know how to handle the condition and trying to help someone whose condition literally tells them that they don’t need help can be a daunting task.
It can be extremely challenging to attempt to care for or even live with someone who experiences psychosis and delusions like many severe schizophrenic episodes include. The majority of people with this condition who are married were fortunate to meet their partner prior to the onset. Those who have this condition and are aware of it tend to stay single for that reason.
For those who were able to find a spouse and attempt to get married and lead a “typical” life, eventually the fallout will come. That can lead to so much additional stress and make the disorder worse. Here are some of the impacts to keep in mind.

Difficulty Connecting contributes to Schizophrenia and Divorce

In relationships and divorce, people who have schizophrenia will become even more withdrawn and isolated, which creates further difficulty in creating connections. This could make it challenging to connect with lawyers, case workers, and others that are involved in the process. It could also lead to questions of parenting ability and change the outcome of custody in a court hearing.
People with severe schizophrenia are, and appear, completely detached from the world around them, often living in their delusions for lack of an ability to escape or simply because it feels safer. The more stress there is, the less these people will reach out to others. That can make it difficult to resolve conflict and get through important processes like divorce or family law cases.

Communication Issues contributes to Schizophrenia and Divorce

People with schizophrenia aren’t great communicators to begin with. If there is stress and added emotional turmoil, they are going to continue to withdraw and internalize. This can make it difficult to work out post-breakup arrangements, custody, and even just to discuss the conflicts or try to reach an amicable arrangement before taking the case to court for a judge to decide.
There are so many different communication issues already present in divorce and when you add in a mental disorder with so much psychosis and detachment, it can become increasingly complex for everyone involved.

Living in a “Different World”

One of the biggest parts of schizophrenia is the sense of being detached from reality or living in a different one. This can make it difficult for people to understand the gravity of divorce and other family law issues. It can also increase their struggle in getting through the process. Much like withdrawing from communication, schizophrenics might retreat to their alternate realities or delusions as a way to cope with stress.

Inability to Manage Daily Living contributes to Schizophrenia and Divorce

When divorcing a schizophrenic, “what happens to them” is an important question. In most cases, these people are limited in their ability to care for themselves, handle basic functions like paying bills and maintaining employment. Thus, they may end up having to live with family or be institutionalized if their condition is too severe. In these cases, custody isn’t even an issue because if the individual cannot care for themselves, it’s likely that they cannot care for a child.
Of course, this will be for the courts to decide, but in extreme cases, this could be a matter that needs to be discussed– what happens to the person with schizophrenia after the divorce is over if they cannot live on their own?
It can become an issue that needs to be resolved, for the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved.

Tips and Tools to Manage Your Condition and Your Case

We’ll start with the same advice we’ve offered for all of the conditions that we have discussed thus far: treatment should be step one if it isn’t already in place. No matter who is dealing with the condition, a divorce case will be much easier for everyone if there is a proper treatment plan in place for the person struggling with schizophrenia.
This may even be a necessary part of a custody or parenting agreement. Of course, this condition is one of the most severe when it comes to the issue of treatment avoidance. Many people are so wrapped up in their delusions and hallucinations that they truly believe that they don’t need help or that the treatment is actually the enemy.

Support and Reassurance

The individual affected with schizophrenia needs support and reassurance from those around them. If it’s you, ask your family and friends, as well as your lawyer, therapist, and other people in your life, for help along the way. If it is your soon-to-be ex that has this disorder, try to encourage them to do right by themselves.
That includes encouraging them to stay in treatment and continue to take medications or attend therapy sessions. You should also be respectful and remember that their delusions are very real to them. Do not demean or belittle them, but try to help them find a solution that works. If you can, find support groups that may be able to help you deal with what you are going through.
This is a complex, difficult disorder in any capacity. With the added stress of divorce, those affected could devolve further into their delusional state and not be able to do what is required of them. Although it’s not an instant or guaranteed cure, a little bit of reassurance can go a long way.

Safety Concerns

With an extreme psychosis like what often comes with schizophrenia, safety issues are often a paramount concern in breakups, divorce, and even daily life. People who struggle with schizophrenia often have angry or irrational outbursts that are fueled by their delusions and paranoid beliefs. This can become dangerous for the individual if they become self-destructive.
It can also be dangerous for spouses, partners, and children. In most cases, people don’t intend to be violent or harmful, but the outbursts are a symptom of the condition. Because people are paranoid and often living with delusions, they can have an unrealistic level of fear that results in putting their own safety or the safety of others at risk.
In the event that you think safety is an issue for anyone in your divorce or relationship, you need to contact the appropriate authorities as soon as possible. The police may need to get involved, but in many cases, the individual may just need to be reevaluated or hospitalized until they can be deemed safe to return to normal life again.

Other Tips

Schizophrenia is unpredictable and difficult to handle in any circumstance, let alone during the process of divorce.
Here are a few more tips to help you along the way.

  • Have a treatment plan in place or make sure that the spouse in question is seeking the appropriate treatment. This will be paramount to reducing the stress and uncertainty, as well as any additional symptoms appearing, during the divorce process.
  • Make sure that everyone is on the same page about what is going on. If the schizophrenic is out of touch with reality, you may be able to work with your lawyer to get an incompetence motion filed to assist with the process when the other person cannot or will not engage in their part of the divorce.
  • Don’t confuse the outbursts of schizophrenia with actual violent tendencies or domestic abuse situations– while these people can get violent, they are not criminals. They are ill and they need proper assistance to get better. If you do call the cops, make sure you tell them straight away that mental health is involved.
  • Work with an attorney that has experience in mental health issues within divorce and custody. They will be able to help you navigate the process and understand what you are up against, as well as to prepare for whatever stresses and surprises arise. This will not be a smooth process, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare, either.
  • Perhaps one of the most important tips for dealing with schizophrenic behaviors and individuals: never challenge their paranoias or delusions. No matter how obviously false they are, the individual believes these things to be true and if you tell them otherwise, they may react unexpectedly or dangerously. At the very least they will not feel that they can trust you as a resource when they need help.


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