Dealing With Addiction in Divorce
It’s long been assumed that divorce is more common in marriages where one or both partners struggle with an alcohol or substance abuse disorder. But only recently was this theory quantified.
In a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers found that nearly half (48 percent) of all study participants who had a current or past alcohol use disorder got divorced at least once, compared to a 30 percent divorce rate for those without an alcohol problem. Adding the use of (or addiction to) illegal substances into the mix only increases the likelihood of divorce.
But while addiction is a contributing factor to many divorces, each case is different, and you may have questions and concerns about how to proceed. This post will explore ways to address a spouse’s addiction, how one can address addiction in a divorce case, and how courts resolve these cases in a way that protects the parties involved.
Take Action When Your Spouse is Addicted
Many of those who consult with a family law attorney are struggling with a spouse’s addiction to one (or more) of three things: alcohol, drugs, and gambling. Because two of these three vices are legal for those over age 21, they can be especially tough to tackle.
One of the first—and most important—steps for a spouse to take is simply to recognize addiction as a problem. Often, seeing someone on a day-to-day basis can condition a person to actions or behavior that would otherwise be a red flag. When a person’s behavior or substance use evolves into addiction, the first thing their spouse must do is to realize the potential permanent impact that this addiction can have on others. This is especially true where children are involved.
It’s also important to be realistic about the nature of addiction. It’s only recently that courts and treatment providers have begun to look at addiction as a disease, not a personal failing; but for spouses feeling betrayed by addiction, it can be tempting to believe that if the addict simply loved them more, or if they loved the addict more, the addiction would end. Sometimes the normal response is the exact wrong response where an addict is concerned.
Instead, reach out to a professional, whether an attorney, a drug or alcohol rehabilitation facility, or a counselor, to help you formulate a plan of action. Regardless of whether you stay in your marriage or end it, it’s important to have balanced, professional advice on how to protect yourself and your family going forward.
Addressing Addiction as a Key Issue in Divorce
Once someone has decided that divorce is the only option, it’s important to address the addiction during this process. Simply parting ways (and assets) without taking steps to protect children can put their safety at stake and may reflect badly on both parents, not just the one struggling with addiction.
For example, if one parent is an alcoholic or drug addict, it may be necessary to have precautions in place to prevent the parent from driving with the children or neglecting the children’s care while potentially under the influence. Depending on the facts of the case, this can include safeguards up to and including supervised visitation at a neutral location. It is important to address these safeguards up front if there is a problem; otherwise, if a parent is arrested for DUI with children in the vehicle, for example, both parents may be the subject of a child welfare investigation.
Depending on the situation, it may be necessary to seek extraordinary relief from the trial court as soon as a divorce petition is filed. This relief often takes the form of special conditions in a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), which can set forth conditions a parent must meet in order to exercise their parental rights, or even prevent a parent from exercising possession of the child for a short period until a court hearing can be held. If addiction issues have led to family violence, a more stringent Protective Order may be needed. Although anyone can file a petition for TRO, this process can be complex and emotionally exhausting, and the process of obtaining extraordinary relief or a Protective Order is very fact-intensive, so it’s always best to involve an attorney in the process.
How Courts Handle Addiction in Divorce Cases
Family courts have extensive experience in dealing with individuals struggling with addiction and will normally take immediate action to protect any children or other vulnerable parties involved. This includes issuing any orders necessary to maintain a protective environment or to keep the “status quo” in effect while the parties work out an agreement.
These orders, including TROs, and Protective Orders, often set forth benchmarks that the person who is dealing with addiction must address before the status quo can be changed. For example, a spouse with a drug addiction may be required to attend NA meetings, regularly see a counselor, or take periodic drug tests. Family courts are accustomed to holding frequent status conferences and hearings to monitor the parties’ compliance with these orders and to determine whether certain conditions can be maintained, modified, or removed. Often conditions are modified or removed a little at a time, so that the spouse with an addiction progresses in steps, and provisions are included so that if there is a regression in behavior, those protective conditions can be put back in place.
These orders may seem restrictive, but they’re not intended to be punitive.
Instead, they’re issued with protection and restoration in mind. It is the public policy of Texas, as set forth in the Texas Family Code, to assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child, to provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child, and to encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage. The ultimate goal of all parties involved, including the family court, is for the person struggling with addiction to successfully address these issues so that they can work toward a healthier life for themselves and their children.
If you are the spouse with the addiction problem, and are willing to work hard to follow the advice of your legal and medical advisors, we can help you work your way through the court system to improve things for you and your children.