Divorce and Suicide

Posted on Aug 31, 2022 by Katie Carter


There are just some conversations that are difficult to have, and this one is a good example. I talk about divorce every single day, and, somehow, that never really gets to me. I have a fundamental belief that there’s no reason to stay in an unsuccessful, unhappy, unfulfilling, and/or abusive marriage. That, for me, is coupled with the perspective that, as far as women are concerned, the possibility of getting a divorce is a relatively recent phenomenon, and one that gives women so many more opportunities than previous generations have been able to experience.

I wouldn’t personally describe my glasses as rose-tinted, but I can see how it might come across that way to someone who is only recently in my orbit. I work – and have worked now, for over a decade – in a Virginia-based family law firm dedicated to representing women exclusively in divorce, child custody, and support cases. It’s definitely a unique environment, especially compared with a law firm that represents men and women equally (as almost all do; there are only two Virginia-based law firms that represent men only and none that represent women), and I am cognizant of the fact that it has given me a unique perspective on the experience and process of divorce.

But that’s enough about me. This is about you.

No matter who you are, coming to the realization that your marriage is at an end is a harrowing experience. I never said it was rainbow and unicorns all the way! Wondering how you’re going to support your kids, maintain a household, and stay sane are all real concerns – concerns that most divorcing women face. Everyone is afraid of what divorce will do to their finances, and what kind of a toll the divorce will take on the children.

Not everyone, though, is suffering from bigger issues – from depression and anxiety or other mental illness, from abuse or neglect, from addiction, from homelessness or unemployment, or whatever else is ultimately keeping you lying awake at night. We don’t all have access to therapists, to prescription medications, to extra money to cover the groceries or the car repair or the daycare, or to economic or professional opportunities. In divorce, as in so many other things, what we have is decidedly unequal.

Are you considering suicide? Are you worried that your soon-to-be ex is considering suicide? You’re not alone. And I really, really hope I can help.

If you’re considering suicide

Take a deep breath. I’m not judging you. I’m here to help you. Though – full disclosure – I am not a doctor or a therapist, I’m just a regular old divorce lawyer. But I’m a mom and a woman, and I’m sure we share a lot of other things in common. So, I can say, emphatically: you are loved, you are wanted, and you should stay.

Divorce is divorce; we’ll figure it out. It may seem insurmountable today, but that’s a feeling that so many women feel at the beginning of the process. We work through it. We’ll find solutions. Let’s just talk about it, okay?

First of all, I do think you should talk to a doctor. Whether you have a doctor or whether you need to look into local free clinics, I think you’ll find that it’s easier than you think to get the help, whether therapy or something pharmaceutical, that you’ll need to help get back on your feet.

You’re not crazy. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re an ordinary person under an extraordinary amount of pressure. No one is going to judge you. On the contrary, I think you’ll find that everyone you come in contact with wants to help you. But you’ll have to make that first call.

If I commit suicide, what happens to my kids?

From a custody and visitation standpoint, this is clear: if something happens to you, your children will go to their father. You can’t create an estate plan where you give the children to your mom or your sister or some other guardian you designate. Your child’s father will get custody.

Your mom or sister or whoever else could petition for custody and visitation, but it’s harder for a non parent to get parenting time than it is for a parent. They may be facing a really expensive uphill battle that ultimately may not end with the result that you – or they – want. That’s just something you should be aware of now.

If I commit suicide, what happens to my divorce?

If something happens to you, there is no divorce. Your spouse will take on all the assets and liabilities from the marriage. Unless you have a will that says something to the contrary, the marital assets become his assets.

I’m really scared, and I don’t know where to turn.

Just get through today. And then tomorrow. One thing at a time; don’t let your brain crowd with all the things that could happen. Put one foot in front of the other, think of your children, and keep moving. You can do this. You can do hard things.

Virginia has a new crisis line for mental health awareness. Rather than calling 911, you can call 988 and talk to someone directly about what you’re experiencing. They can help guide you to get the help that you need – now.

If you’re afraid and don’t know what to do, stop reading and call 988.

If your husband may commit suicide

Worrying about your own mental health is stressful enough, but worrying that your spouse may reach his tipping point is overwhelming, too. If you’re concerned that your husband is headed towards suicide, you should do what you can to get him to seek help.

Obviously, if it’s an unsafe situation, you may need to steer clear – you may even need a protective order or police support to help keep you and your children safe. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out to the police or to someone you know – like his friends or family members – who could potentially provide some support for him.

It may be that, if the police are involved, he’ll get involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward for a period of times. His ‘hold’ time would depend on the severity of the threat of danger to himself or others.

It may not, then, be the time to move forward with the divorce. In the case of a separation agreement, we can’t have a party sign who has been recently committed; it just makes the validity of the agreement too questionable.

If you were to file for a contested divorce, there’s a chance that a Guardian ad litem would be appointed to represent his interests, especially if he’s in no position to effectively advocate for himself.

Virginia divorce and suicide

Mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, abuse, dealing with a narcissistic husband, and fear of the unknown can cause a divorce – which is already difficult – to be an even more overwhelming prospect.

Ultimately, suicide is (fortunately) pretty rare, but it does sometimes happen. If you’re having suicidal thoughts or you’re afraid for your safety, you should take steps now. Call 988, call 911, call your doctor, call our office, call your mom – just call someone, anyone, who can help you clear the fog and get the help you need.

Too many people need you. Too many people love you, and count on you, and would be haunted by your loss. You’ve got too much left to do. Too much left to prove. Divorce is just one short phase of your life – something so much better will follow. Hang in there. Get help. And reach out. We’re only a phone call away at 757-425-5200.