Divorce and Suicide

Today I learned one of my former family law clients killed himself. He had a 3 year old son. The reason I thought I would share this is because I have had a lot of “high-conflict” clients

over the years, clients who I have had serious concerns for their mental health. Angry clients, clients who were aggressive, who hated their ex-spouse and told me about it on a daily basis. This client was not one of those. His case was fairly standard, a few periods of conflict, notably during temporary relief motions, some nasty letters and then we finally settled the case about 16 months after it started. A very forgettable case from a divorce lawyer’s perspective (which is nice!).

I’ve had clients kill themselves before, I think most criminal and family lawyers have had it happen, but not a client who appeared so level headed and normal. This made me do a little research (that is what lawyers are supposed to be good at after all!) and I found some pretty surprising and shocking statistics:

  • The National Institute for Healthcare Research in Rockville, MD found that divorced people are three
    times as likely to commit suicide.
  • Divorce ranks as the number one factor linked with suicide rates in major U.S. cities, ranking above all other physical, financial, and psychological factors.
  • The Word Health Organization found that divorce was the only consistent factor in factors for suicide in 13 European countries.
  • Divorced men are 4X more likely to commit suicide than divorced women according to a University of Colorado study.
  • In the U.K. the leading cause of death in men under 50 is suicide.

Those are pretty sobering facts and facts that I suspect most divorce lawyers in Minnesota don’t know about them. One of the problems from the legal practitioners’ perspective is that we don’t really get to know our clients. This is done for a variety of reason, to remain objective, to not get enmeshed, to keep costs down, etc. so we only see our clients for brief snapshots, at court, our office, telephone calls but I suspect it’s pretty easy to hide this level of depression when you meet someone only a few times and talk to them briefly.

The other problem we have is that we, as lawyers, are woefully ill prepared to do any sort of mental health analysis let alone counseling. While we are “counselors at law” there are no classes that we take in law school to identify mental stress or mental illness in a client, the best we can do is read our journal articles, maybe remember a few notes from Psych 101 from our undergrad days and hope for the best.

If you are going through a divorce or if you are family or friends of someone going through a divorce, don’t underestimate the stress of a marriage being dissolved. The day in and day out stress wears even the strongest person down and if you see them having troubles urge them to get help. I know I’ll spend additional time asking how my clients are doing and give them the name of a few good counselors to talk to.

Thank you for reading. Chris R. I hope you found the peace you apparently couldn’t find on earth.

P.S. Need help for suicide prevention? http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Jason Kohlmeyer
Rosengren Kohlmeyer
Law Office Chtd.
Mankato, Minnesota


About Jason Kohlmeyer

With over 14 years experience in high conflict family law cases, numerous awards, and frequent lecturer through both Minnesota and the United States on family law issues, Jason has decided to help folks through a blog, answering some of the most common questions that people have during divorce and family law cases


  1. Don’t forget about the moms who are being abused by the court system, add an angry abusibe x husband and 15 years of court abuse and I almost did myself in, I never wanted anything but amicable co parenting and never kept my children from their father….court appointed therapists evaluated that co parenting was the way to go regardless of the history of abuse. My x was then able to facilitate the abuse with the aid of family court. 15 years of trying desperately to explain my situation lost my life savingigs and now work just to pay off fees, imagine going to work for 2 years and give everything to attorney to defend myself against excessive litigation oh well I guess that is not noticed, my children have suffered severely and we were ignored. Too bad it’s a falsehood when they say each family situation is different and should be remedyied accordingly.
    Family court destroyed my kids childhood, the big question -“when 1 parent abuses another , does it affect the children?” Our family court therapists thought not, 5 hospitalizations for my oldest and 1 so far for me… 15 years is a long time to be under such street. It will get you matter how tough you think you are, our civil rights to a peaceful life were denied because of family court.

    • Teri,

      Excellent point, the problems people have in the court system are not always of their own making and really both genders can have a terrible time.

      My comments are not that the family court system is broken or trying to abuse anyone, it’s just that it is predicated on the basis of an adversarial system, as is the entire USA/UK justice system. The concept is that you get an advocate who is an expert in this area of law, the other side does the same and you get the thing resolved in mediation or other alternative dispute resolution. Their are two ways this breaks down, the first is you hire the wrong lawyer. That is why it’s critical to investigate who you intend to hire. I had a potential client make a comment saying that all lawyers go to school the same length of time and are really the same so does it really matter? My response is there is a reason they called O.J’s lawyers the “Dream Team”. Usually (but not always) you get what you pay for, that for lawyers, therapists and evaluators.

      The second way it breaks down is when your ex wants blood. If your ex is unreasonable and has the resources to drag you into court whenever he feels like you need to get a very solid strategy to defend yourself, you need a lawyer who can be proactive not reactive and you need to be on the same page. But, that still won’t stop the fighting, no court can do that.

      Sorry to hear about your experience, best of luck in the future.

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