How To Divorce Someone Struggling with Addiction?
Addiction can ruin lives, including the person who is struggling with the problem and their family members and friends. The addiction could be to alcohol, drugs, or another destructive behavior like gambling, but experiencing a loved one’s addiction firsthand is extraordinarily painful. It can be a main cause for a divorce, and even when the struggling addict’s spouse does not want to end the marriage, this could be the only way to get out of a potentially harmful situation.
How Can I File for Divorce Based on Substance Abuse?
Every state in the U.S. lets spouses file for divorces that are based on no-fault grounds like “irreconcilable differences.” However, there need to be “grounds,” or a reason why the divorce is being filed. In New Jersey, grounds for divorce can be based on one spouse’s addiction, which falls under the umbrella of mental health issues. The two recognized categories for addiction are:
- Institutionalization for a mental illness for 24 or more consecutive months, after marriage but before the divorce begins
- Voluntarily induced habitual drunkenness or drug addiction, for 12 or more consecutive months, after marriage but before the divorce begins.
The first step of divorcing a spouse struggling with addiction is to gather evidence that documents the abuse. Do not provide false information to gain access to phones or computers, and do not steal passwords: these actions could later be used against you by the defense. Instead, save any receipts and credit card statements that might show drug or alcohol purchases, and take photos of bottles, drugs, drug paraphernalia, and photos of the spouse partaking, if possible. Save any texts or emails about their substance abuse or addiction that were sent and received between you and your spouse as well.
Addicts often exhibit dysfunctional behaviors that also leave trails that you can document. This might be multiple DUI penalties or convictions, getting fired from several jobs, letters from previous employers, physical bruises on them, you, and other family members, and photos with damaged property. Once you have some form of proof, you can reach out to a divorce attorney. If children are involved, their safety must be the priority.
The evidence will need to be safeguarded too, and this can be done by uploading it to the Cloud and password-protecting the access or keeping a backup flash drive to share with your attorney. Witnesses may be needed to support the case, and these can include family members, friends, teachers, physicians, and others, and a private investigator may need to be hired as well. Sometimes, an addict’s dealer can even be found and encouraged to testify.
What About Child Custody?
If the struggling addict is a threat to your children, you may need to obtain emergency child custody orders and a restraining order. To do this, you need evidence to support the threat. In New Jersey, courts make their custody decisions based on the children’s best interests. They will consider the child’s needs, stability of the home’s environment, and each parent’s fitness to be with the child. Active substance abuse obviously impacts all three, and will influence what a court will decide.
Sometimes, restrictions like not drinking in front of the children are placed and in other cases, there can be supervised visitations. When the latter happens, the parent in question will only be able to visit the children in the presence of an approved third party like a grandparent. When a parent is deemed unfit to meet their parental duties, a court might decide that a termination of parental rights is the only way to meet the children’s best interests.
Co-parenting with a struggling addict might involve a strict child custody and visitation agreement that prioritizes stability and safety. There could also be third-party random visitations, no overnight visits, required sobriety testing and other strict parameters. There could also be a clause to address the possibility of a relapse and consequences for violating the agreement.
Will My Divorce Settlement Be Affected?
Sadly, substance abuse is often associated with behavioral problems like domestic violence, neglect, dishonesty, and reckless use of family finances. When the addiction is documented, it can impact the struggling addict’s credibility to the court. Some courts may be more lenient though, especially if the person is conscientiously trying to recover and is genuinely remorseful.
Still, addictions are expensive, and with enough proof courts can be shown that the couple’s finances were drained because of the problem. This will help to determine how much each spouse will receive in a settlement. They will also look at both spouses’ ages, emotional and physical health, educational levels, employability, and earning capacities. This will also help to determine the appropriate amount of child support.
Am I Ready to Begin Divorce Proceedings?
Getting divorced is not an easy process, but it can be the best and safest choice for spouses who are living with struggling addicts. Those individuals may not be inherently bad people, but their erratic and often dangerous behaviors can be impossible to live with. Many enter rehab time and time again, only to return to their old behaviors. Some are high-functioning and hold down responsible jobs during the day, but still manage to feed their addictions. It can be hard to separate from a breadwinner, but the risks often outweigh the benefits.
It takes courage and strength to dissolve a marriage, and careful preparation and an understanding of the process is especially important when divorcing a struggling addict. There may be the need for a private child custody determination, a drug evaluation, and a temporary child custody order. Keep in mind that struggling addicts can be very unpredictable, so the case could very well take some unexpected turns. A knowledgeable and skilled divorce attorney should be able to guide you through all of this with a practiced hand, leading you and your family to a solution that is best for everyone involved.
Contact a Marlton Divorce Attorney from Goldstein & Mignogna, P.A. For Trusted Legal Help with Difficult Divorce Cases
Living with a struggling addict takes a toll on spouses and children and in many cases, divorce is the only answer. For a confidential consultation, reach out to a compassionate, skilled Marlton divorce attorney from Goldstein & Mignogna, P.A. We will listen to concerns, and fight to protect your interests. Call our Marlton, New Jersey offices at 856-890-9400 or complete our online form. From our Marlton, New Jersey offices we serve clients in Burlington County, Camden County, Gloucester County, and throughout New Jersey.