Bipolar husband has walked out on a friend of ours. What now?
August 27, 2007 9:47 AM   Subscribe

What are the next steps for a wife who's husband has just walked out? Not-so-delicious twist: husband is mentally ill and probably going to worsen.

The husband of a good friend of ours has basically just walked out on them. She was basically a stay-at-home mother who did a little bit of part-time work on the side. They have several small children.

The husband has been diagnosed bipolar (not sure which type), and had just completed a 2-week stint at the hospital while they adjusted his meds. While he was in there, he decided that his time there was so blissfully stress-free that it was his family that was causing of his problems. About a week after he was released, he packed his stuff and walked out. He says he intends to continue supporting them by working and so on, but within about 24 hours of departing, had sent her long e-mails indicating that he was about to send/serve her with separation papers, and included a long laundry list of reasons why he was done (their shared - or apparently shared religious life among them). This is a 100% break, as far as we can tell, from their 12 years together. His episodes have always been manageable (as far as I know), but this one seems to have been pretty acute. To hear her tell it, he's absolutely unlike he was when he want into the facility.

We've advised her to seek legal advice immediately, especially if he's about to formalize their separation (however that's done in the state of Georgia).

What else ought we advise her to do? Others have suggested that she start moving some cash around out of his reach, I mentioned that she might consider changing the locks. Just looking for things I can pass on. We (and several others) have offered her space, so food and a roof are not the most pressing concerns, but they probably will be at some point.
posted by jquinby to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Does the husband work? If so, she can get alimony and child support. She needs to find a lawyer, as you've already mention.

I'm not really sure how this situation is any different from any other "surprise" separation.
posted by k8t at 9:50 AM on August 27, 2007

Yes, he works. Not sure for how much longer. He's lost one job, we think, because of an episode some time ago. The difference, I think, is the mental illness bit. Not really sure how that changes things for her, hence, the lawyer.
posted by jquinby at 9:53 AM on August 27, 2007

If he has always known to be bipolar, went to hospital, got meds and seems like a different person when he got out, maybe it's all for the best even though it doesn't look like it right now.

Seconding yourself and k8t, get a lawyer. Maybe she should start looking for jobs just in case he doesn't send in money.

Changing locks? Moving money out of his way? I smell trouble if this ever gets to court.

I can't tell from your description why is he a menace after being diagnosed and given meds but (I deduce) not before this?
posted by lucia__is__dada at 10:01 AM on August 27, 2007

lucia - he was diagnosed some time ago, but was apparently able to manage things well until about a month out. Since then, his behavior has gotten sort of erratic and somewhat concerning. I can't elaborate further.

In any case, she solicited advice from everyone she knows on next steps. None of us have ever gone through this, nor do we know anyone who has.
posted by jquinby at 10:39 AM on August 27, 2007

Any chance she can talk to his psychiatrist? It sounds like his doctor should know he's manic and going off some deep end, that whatever fiddling they did with his meds hasn't had the (presumed) intended result, and that he needs help, perhaps even another hospitalization asap.

Mental illness is tough on everyone, not least the mentally ill. That said, I agree she needs a lawyer fast.
posted by pammo at 10:40 AM on August 27, 2007

Just because he was released from the hospital doesn't mean he's thinking straight.

She needs to consult a lawyer immediately. She also needs to immediately check on protecting the money not just for her sake but for hubby's sake. If he is manic he'll go thru assets like crap thru a goose.

She also needs to check with his shrink. He may or may not be compentent mentally at the moment.

She does need to treat this as a real separation. If and when he does come to his senses (assuming that's the problem) they need to set safeguards in place in case something like this happens again.
posted by konolia at 10:41 AM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

You don't seem to really "know" a lot. You are doing a lot of filling in the blanks. I suggest you give her your total support when needed.
In the meantime she should talk to a counselor or perhaps a lawyer if she knows enough factually.
This is no time for guessing.
posted by JayRwv at 10:41 AM on August 27, 2007

OH, and it is highly likely, if he is manic, that he is or conceivably will be unfaithful. She needs to be aware of that, and he needs to be tested if they get back together. I'm not trying to be cute. It is VERY common in bipolar people and definitely part of the manic cycle both because of way lower selfcontrol skills and the fact that mania makes you crave sex.
posted by konolia at 10:43 AM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

"How long does it take to get a divorce?

If there is agreement between the parties, the divorce is considered uncontested. An uncontested divorce may be granted 31 days after the defendant has been served with the complaint for divorce. If there is disagreement as to any matter, the divorce will be obtained when the case reaches the court, which can take many months."

Link goes to the State Bar of Georgia.

If she believes that he is a danger to himself or others, she might be able to get him involuntarily committed, but that may not be the way to go. And, like everyone else says, get a lawyer.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:43 AM on August 27, 2007

Moving cash around in anticipation of either sending or receiving divorce papers is a Really. Bad. Idea. To the extent the funds are in a joint account, he has equal legal access and the funds are jointly his. He might take the funds himself - but the judge will NAIL any party that moves funds around in that way. I mean nail. To continue to use the funds in the normal way in which the couple did so when married (i.e. to continue to pay ongoing household bills) is a different story, but don't parse out funds (not even a "fair share" of them) and don't make large new purchases or sudden household projects.

On the other hand, when a party departs with intention of permanency the marital residence, it's probably okay to change the locks. But what is the point? If she is in fear of her safety, or is she scared he might come back to take some of their (i.e., equally HIS) possessions?

There's no really good extra-legal or good short-term, self-help solution here. Find a decent family lawyer, and that individual will jump on it, including emergency petitions to the court for immediate hearing if need be.

(I am not a family lawyer, and this is not legal advice).
posted by bunnycup at 10:47 AM on August 27, 2007

Ugh, sorry I hate to do this, but I have a few more thoughts to add.

Keeping very close track of the joint accounts is a good idea. Check and print the balance today and every day, and file that along with any other statements (credit card bills held jointly!), correspondence, etc.

Call the kids school and let the administrators and the childrens' teachers know that Dad is acting erratically and divorce is allegedly pending. They may not be able to refuse to hand the kids over to Dad if he shows up, but maybe they'll call your friend if he does. Most kidnappings occur by family members in divorce scenarios. Not trying to plant panic here, but it's a good idea. It also helps alert the teachers that kids are having some stressors at home, and may need a little extra patience or understanding in the classroom. I am sure the school, teachers, will promise to keep the information confidential.
posted by bunnycup at 10:54 AM on August 27, 2007

bunnycup: even if it could be reasonably argued that the moving was because of (very reasonably) suspected mental illness on the other person's part? I think we'll all agree that a conference call between the lawyers and psychiatrists is needed ASAP.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:09 AM on August 27, 2007

Robot, I'm not sure I understand your question.

Under patient confidentiality, and I would think as an MD you would know this, the psychiatrists are going to be prohibited as a matter of state law from sharing any information with lawyers representing opposing party in divorce proceedings. Doctor might talk to the police, if the psychiatrist agreed the patient was a danger to himself or others. From the facts at hand, which are certainly not all the facts, I don't see the kind of physical threat that would result in this kind of "danger to self/others" conclusion that would justify breach of doctor/patient confidentiality. On the other hand, Wife may believe that this behavior is solely the result of mania and husband, in his "right" mind would not proceed like this, in which case some kind of involuntary committment might be an attractive solution. If the "lawyer" discussion is among the psychiatrist and family lawyers seeking an involuntary committment or some kind of suspension of husband's legal capacity on grounds of insanity, it again might be a different story. But, the doctors can't talk to give wife background information for divorce proceedings. (Note: I am a lawyer with a psych degree, but this is not legal advice.)

If your question is whether she can move the funds because she believes her (soon to be) ex-husband lacks capacity, I believe he'd have to be adjudicated incapacitated before she'd have that right, but I don't say for certain. What I do say with confidence is that when a judge in a divorce proceeding sees that one party hid joint money away from another party, that judge is never pleased. Doing so is walking around, ignoring, the proper procedures of law that would award the joint funds and property based on Equitable Distribution as a part of the divorce proceeding. Thus, an attempt to take the money could have a negative impact on other legal rights, and I would not reccomend doing so unless and until a retained lawyer expressly and unequivocally reccomends, acting in role as counsel, that wife do so.

It is my understanding that the pre-requisite for wife to assert sole dominion over joint funds would be incapacity (adjudicated, not assumed), death, divorce, etc.
posted by bunnycup at 11:25 AM on August 27, 2007

Definitely advise your friend to call his doctor. A good friend of mine went through this recently... His wife's (bipolar) meds were switched, and all of a sudden she told him that she wanted to disappear and never see him or their kids again. She asked him to tell the kids that she died. He called her doctor and they switched her meds again, and she's doing a lot better. She no longer wants to leave.

Getting psych meds right can take a lot longer than 2 weeks, and any good psychiatrist will want to know when they're not working right.
posted by doubtful_guest at 11:47 AM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

These are all questions for a lawyer, who should be retained immediately.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:51 PM on August 27, 2007

Bunnycup: Yes, I was going at this from an incapacity angle rather than a divorce proceeding one, since it sounds like the OP's friend believes her husband to be suffering from a manic episode. I understand that incapacity has to be adjudged, but not the details of how that interacts with other legal proceedings, which is why I'd want a lawyer to help me when I tried to get such rolling.

I'm not an MD; I'm in training. Students aren't allowed anything, including opinions. I also have never worked in psychiatry. There's a card in my wallet with the number for the hospital's HIPAA people and lawyers, who I would undoubtably call in such a situation. On the other hand, I have watched a friend get steamrolled at a capacity hearing, and would want a lawyer to explain all the ramifications and options before attempting one.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:07 PM on August 27, 2007

Robot, I agree that the perspective from a legal proceeding for capacity would be really different than one for divorce, and I hadn't even thought much about exploring the usefulness of that area until you brought it up.
posted by bunnycup at 1:30 PM on August 27, 2007

As I have come to expect, the advice here has been solid and useful. Thanks to one and all for your feedback.
posted by jquinby at 1:36 PM on August 27, 2007

My husband has "rapid cycle" bipolar. As I have experienced SO MANY different things with him. It sounds to me like he has had a bad reaction to meds whether it be too much dosage, lack of dosage or the wrong meds entirely that has thrown him into a manic state. Running away from the "pressures at home" to be "free" is a typical manic behavior. My husband left for 4 days at Christmas. I have a gut feeling he will be back begging for your forgiveness and crying uncontrollably in his 'depression' which will lead to a long time on the couch with sleep and crying as he balances out again. I may be totally in left field here-- this is simply a perspective from the wife of a husband of 8 years where I've gotten used to this sort of thing-- as much as you can get used to it without losing your own mind.
posted by normal is a setting on a dryer at 7:50 AM on June 29, 2008

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