What You Should Know About Divorcing an Alcoholic

Being married to an alcoholic can present a lot of frustration and emotional suffering. Even though divorces are always difficult, many people who decide to divorce their alcoholic spouse say they feel a sense of relief because they no longer have to deal with someone who is addicted to alcohol. 

If you have decided to divorce your alcoholic spouse, there are several things you should think about and be aware of. As always, you should contact an experienced and knowledgeable divorce attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Information About Alcohol Addiction

People have many definitions of what alcoholism is, but many medical and mental health professionals agree that alcoholism and other forms of addiction are due to an underlying disease. Such factors as genetic and environmental factors have an effect on how or whether the disease will develop in each individual person.

But to the average person, alcoholism appears to be linked to making poor life choices or having a weak moral character. This is only one of the reasons why alcoholic behavior is so confusing to many people, including the alcoholic themselves.

Self-defeating behavior is one of the main reasons alcoholics find it so difficult to seek out treatment. For example, the alcoholic may tell themselves when they are sober that they just need to do a better job of managing their drinking or that they need to have more self-control. Unfortunately, those thoughts disappear after the alcoholic has their first sip of an alcoholic beverage and the cycle of addiction goes back into motion. 

Additionally, alcoholics may find hard to get along with their employers, take care of their family members, or obey the law. Some alcoholics become obnoxious and abusive, both verbally and physically. 

In some cases, an alcoholic may have trouble even when they are sober, and their behavior may become more unpredictable. That’s why the problem of having an alcoholic spouse is rarely, if ever, solved – even when the alcoholic sets down the bottle. 

The effects of having the disease of alcoholism goes way beyond the alcoholic. Your alcoholic spouse may be causing problems for your children, close family, and friends. Many times, the children of an alcoholic will blame themselves as not being worthy of the alcoholic parent’s love.

Staying Safe During the Divorce

Because you are dealing with an alcoholic spouse, the emotional stress on you and your spouse during the divorce process may be elevated, and any altercation has the potential of getting physical. 

You must ensure that you are in a place where you and your children are safe. This can be accomplished by having your divorce attorney bring the issue of your spouse being an alcoholic to the family court when you file the initial divorce papers.

The family court may decide to issue a restraining order or an order of protection that bans your alcoholic spouse from bothering you and your children, wasting any of the marital funds, or destroying any marital property while your divorce is working its way through the court system. 

Alcohol Abuse and Family Law

If your spouse is an alcoholic, family courts look at substance abuse problems extremely closely to make the best decisions regarding your divorce and handling child custody matters. The court has the ability to order random alcohol testing, whether or not your alcoholic spouse is seeking treatment. Any adverse actions by your alcoholic spouse may be used by the courts when making decisions regarding your divorce or child custody.

In states that have no-fault divorce laws in place, you may have the right to file a fault-based divorce on the grounds of mental, emotional, or physical abuse, which could all be valid reasons if your spouse is abusing alcohol.

Additionally, if your alcoholic spouse has a criminal record, drug tests, and time in rehabilitation centers, the court may be reluctant to give them certain privileges.

When There Are Children Involved 

When you decide to divorce your alcoholic spouse, child custody will become a key issue and could be a point of contention. When making any decision regarding the children, courts will want what they believe is in the best interest of the children.

In very extreme cases, the court will have no question regarding the safety of your child, because your child’s safety is threatened when they are with your alcoholic spouse. What type of custody is best for your child should be discussed with your divorce attorney.

When a court considers a parent’s alcohol use and/or abuse, they may require independent corroborating evidence of your alcoholic spouse’s behavior. This may include police reports, child protective service reports, testimonies from public agencies or a non-profit organization, or reports from public agencies, In some cases, your divorce attorney may hire a substance abuse expert to provide a testimony to the court. 

Evaluator for Child Custody

If you are concerned about your child’s safety when they are with your alcoholic spouse, the court may appoint a child custody evaluator. A child custody evaluator will spend a lot of time interviewing you, your spouse, and your child or children. They could even request to observe any interaction between your child, you, and your spouse. They may choose to interview your child’s teachers and other professionals. 

Once this is completed, the evaluator will put together a report and present it to the court. This report will also include the evaluator’s recommendation for child custody.

It’s important to note that not every divorce involving an alcoholic spouse will have a child custody evaluator appointed. Whether you want an evaluation is something you should discuss with your divorce attorney. 

Custody with a Parent Who is an Alcoholic

If one parent is an alcoholic, this is of great concern to the courts. An alcoholic parent may not be able to make rational decisions or act in a way that is the best interest of your child. 

Because of this, it’s important that you are working with a knowledgeable divorce attorney who can represent your situation to the court when trying to reach a custody decision that is in the best interest of your child, and give your child the best possible protection if your alcoholic spouse is believed to be a threat.

If your spouse is an alcoholic or has other substance abuse problems, this can be held against them if it affects their ability to care for your child. However, many courts can offer an alternative solution so the child can continue to see both you and your spouse. These alternatives include:

  1. The alcoholic spouse may be allowed to visit with their child only when they are sober.
  2. The alcoholic parent may only be allowed to have supervised visitation rights.
  3. All overnight visits might be considered off-limits for the alcoholic parent.
  4. The alcoholic parent could be required to take regular or random alcohol and drug tests.
  5. The alcoholic parent could be ordered to go to a rehabilitation center, Alcoholics Anonymous, or another type of group geared toward resolving their addiction.

In some cases, the court could decide to terminate the alcoholic parent’s rights. This usually only happens in severe cases where the alcoholic parent’s addiction has caused the child to be harmed in some way or they have been unable to follow the rules set down by the court regarding their child.

Addiction and Property Division and Spousal Support

Most courts around the United States will attempt to divide all of your marital assets equally and in a fair manner. However, if your spouse has wasted your marital funds to support their addiction, the alcoholic spouse may be penalized when the marital property is divided. The same goes for any alimony/spousal support.

The court may award you more spousal support if your alcoholic spouse spent an unfair share of your marital assets. This decision could be reversed, however, if your alcoholic spouse’s problems are connected to a health issue and they require financial support to help with any treatment they may require both during and after your divorce is finalized.

Conclusion

Divorcing your spouse who may be dealing with alcohol or drug addiction can be challenging. You may have to deal with more arguments and extremely complex legal issues. It is vital to work with a knowledgeable and experienced divorce attorney who can advise you on the best outcome for you and your family when divorcing a spouse who has alcoholism or addiction issues.