UPDATED: Tips for Divorcing a Spouse with a Drug or Alcohol Problem

UPDATED: Tips for Divorcing a Spouse with a Drug or Alcohol ProblemBeing married can be difficult at times. However, being married to someone with a substance abuse problem is often unsustainable, especially when children are involved. Once you have made the decision that you can no longer remain in the marriage with a spouse and their addiction, you can take certain steps to protect yourself and your children during a divorce.

Is alcoholism or drug addiction grounds for divorce?

Alcoholism or drug addiction, alone, is not a basis for divorce in the State of Maryland.  If, however, your spouse’s substance abuse is accompanied by other conduct that constitutes a pattern of physical violence and/or emotional abuse, you may have a basis for pursuing a divorce on the grounds of constructive desertion if it impossible for you to safely continue the marital relationship while preserving your health and self-respect.

Maryland courts define constructive desertion as when “one spouse’s behavior is so harmful to the other’s physical or mental well-being that he or she is forced to leave the marriage to preserve his or her health, safety, or well-being.”

How do I prove my spouse has a substance abuse problem in a divorce?

You have heard the expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In legal proceedings, this means evidence of abuse and how it’s affected you and your family.

Document any visible evidence of your spouse’s addiction if it is safely possible to do so. Evidence of addiction takes a myriad of forms.  Drug paraphernalia, copies of liquor store receipts or spending from a joint bank account, a car damaged as a result of drunk driving, property damaged during an alcohol- or drug-induced tirade, incoherent or abusive text messages or emails, are all signs of a problem that can be documented and later used in a divorce or child custody proceeding.

Documentation and evidence is especially crucial in cases of potential danger to a child’s welfare. Do note that you must obtain this documentation legally. Otherwise evidence could be thrown out, or you could even face criminal charges.

Will my spouse’s substance abuse affect division of assets?

The court generally does not take into account who’s at fault when determining asset division in a divorce. However, if your spouse has mismanaged the marital finances due to their substance abuse, the sober spouse may be awarded more property as a way of reimbursing them for the lost assets. Alimony is typically treated in the same manner. An experienced family law attorney can explain more regarding your specific circumstances.

What can I do to help my children if my ex-spouse has substance abuse issues?

A parent’s addiction can often have a lasting negative impact on their children. During the divorce process, you may find that your child could benefit from additional support from their school guidance counselor, a family therapist or child psychologist. These professionals can provide your child with the tools necessary to cope with having a parent who struggles with addiction. In certain situations, these professionals can be integral in assisting a judge when deciding what custody arrangement is in the children’s best interest.

Once you file paperwork for divorce or custody, you can request that the court order an alcohol and substance abuse assessment, a custody or visitation evaluation, and/or psychological evaluation. You can also request that the court appoint a Best Interest Attorney for your children. These evaluations are used to assist the court in deciding custody issues when alcoholism or substance abuse may be negatively affecting the children. Depending on what county you in which you reside, some of these services will be provided at no cost to you.

How do I make sure my children are safe when they are visiting with my ex-spouse?

In a custody proceeding where there is a substantiated case of substance abuse, the court has the authority to condition visitation on the successful completion of a substance abuse program. In addition, the court can require your co-parent to remain drug- and alcohol-free, as well as submit to random drug and alcohol testing, if it determines that such restrictions and conditions are necessary to protect the health and wellbeing of the children.

The court might consider custody alternatives in order to allow the children to continue seeing both parents. These alternatives can include:

  • The parent may only have supervised visitation
  • The parent may not have the children for overnight visits
  • The parent may be required to attend rehab, Alcoholics Anonymous, or other support group

How can I protect myself when dealing with an addicted spouse?

Remember that individuals with substance abuse issues can be unpredictable and illogical, which can make the divorce and post-divorce process especially stressful. Ensure that you engage in self-care so you emerge in a better place than when you started. Consider things like the following:

  • Joining a support group for family members of addicted spouses
  • Learning to accept help from others, which is usually a challenge for partners of addicts
  • Encourage your spouse to get help or treatment, especially if you have children together

You can find a wide variety of Maryland marriage and relationship support groups here.

The Fulton family law attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. have decades of combined experience helping individuals with divorce and divorce planning. We are here to advocate for you and your children, ensuring you are on a confident and strong path post-divorce. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys by calling 443-917-3347 or reaching out to us through our contact form today. As well as Fulton, we maintain offices in Bethesda, Columbia, and Rockville.