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Alcoholism never affects just the person with the disease. The entire family, whether they realize it or not, is involved. From children trying extra hard to "be good" to avoid making Dad angry, to a husband calling his wife in "sick" to work again because she's hung over, the tentacles of this addiction entangle everyone in the house. When a marriage can no longer bear the weight of an alcoholic's behavior, it collapses, but that doesn't break alcoholism's grip on the family. Learn how alcoholism affects your divorce, and how to protect yourself and your children.
Alcoholism continues to be the biggest drug addiction problem in the country. While it may not get as much attention as the opioid epidemic in the news, it affects more families, often in insidious ways. If alcoholism, either yours or your spouse's, has brought your family to the point of divorce, you need to understand, and be prepared to deal with, its effects on the process.
Alcoholism didn't only contribute to your need for a divorce, it will surely affect the divorce process. If much of your marriage was spent walking on eggshells to prevent your alcoholic spouse from becoming angry and violent, it's reasonable to be concerned that initiating divorce will set off your spouse, causing them to spiral more deeply into alcohol abuse. You may be concerned that they will lash out at you, destroy marital property, or worst of all, harm your children.
Even if your alcoholic spouse has no history of violence, you may still be worried about how alcoholism will affect your family now that you are no longer in the same household. As much as you may have resented your spouse's alcohol abuse, pre-divorce, you were at least able to be around to monitor the situation. You made sure that your spouse didn't drive the kids anywhere when drunk. If your spouse passed out on the couch, the kids weren't unattended, because you were there. What happens now, if a judge orders your children to spend a weekend or week at a time with your estranged spouse?
You need to bring these concerns to the attention of an experienced divorce attorney. Not only will an experienced attorney be able to help you plan to protect yourself, your finances, and your children, you can leave any embarrassment or shame about your situation at your attorney's door. She has heard it all before, and has the knowledge to help you navigate this path. For example, she can guide you as to how to gather the evidence you need regarding your spouse's alcoholism, so that your judge will be able to make wise decisions about custody and parenting time that respect your children's needs while keeping them safe.
An attorney can also help you get a restraining order at the beginning of the process. You may think of a restraining order as something that protects your physical safety, but there are also restraining orders to prevent a spouse from spending or destroying marital assets before the court can divide them. This can be essential in divorce situations involving substance abuse.
If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, you probably have your own concerns about divorce. You may be worried that you will lose custody of your children or not be able to spend as much time with them as you would like. You may be worried about the obligation of paying support, if you are the primary wage earner in the marriage, or losing financial stability if your spouse has been supporting you. A good attorney will help you understand how your alcohol issues are taken into account for things like custody and parenting time. Substance abuse is one of the considerations when the court is analyzing the "best interests of the child."
Alcohol abuse distorts your perceptions and impacts your decision-making process. If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, your attorney can be a voice of reason who has your best interests at heart. Her job is not to appease or deceive you, but to give you the information you need to make the best possible decisions and to advocate for you. That's why it's important to choose an attorney you trust and feel comfortable working with.
There are different considerations in play depending on whether you are actively drinking or whether you are in recovery. Even if you are not currently drinking, your spouse may attempt to use your history of alcohol abuse against you. Your attorney will be able to present evidence of positive changes you have made to the court so that decisions are made based on reality, not a snapshot from the past.
Divorce is not just a legal process, as we've emphasized many times in this space. Like marriage itself, divorce has legal, financial, social, emotional, and spiritual components. Your attorney can offer you the legal guidance you need, but you still need to address how alcohol has addressed the other facets of your marriage and divorce. We highly recommend seeking support for yourself and your teens through Al-Anon and Alateen if your spouse or ex-spouse is an alcoholic; if you are struggling with alcoholism yourself, Alcoholics Anonymous can be an invaluable support.
Of course, there are other resources as well, and for any member of a family that is dealing with alcohol issues and divorce. Counseling can be invaluable for all family members. Feel free to contact our law office for referral to therapists with particular experience dealing with alcoholism and divorce, or for any questions you may have about how alcoholism affects your divorce.