Divorcing an alcoholic spouse can be challenging and frustrating. Various issues, such as child custody and finances, may become more complicated when divorcing a spouse struggling with alcoholism. For these reasons among others, it is vital to understand the facts and arguments surrounding this type of divorce. Here’s everything you need to know about divorcing an alcoholic spouse.

Alcohol Abuse and Family Law

Alcohol is typically defined as when an individual can no longer control their use of alcohol to the point of abusing it, despite knowing the harmful consequences of doing so. An alcoholic spouse may be the source of numerous issues for their children, close family, and friends. Above all, it is important to make sure that when divorcing an alcoholic, an individual should keep themselves and their children safe. This can be accomplished by having a divorce attorney present the issue of alcoholism to a family court when filing the initial divorce papers.

For divorces involving an alcoholic spouse, family courts will look at substance abuse as a serious issue regarding the divorce process and any matters of child custody. As a result, the court may have the right to conduct random testing if the alcoholic spouse may or may not be seeking treatment, or regarding any adverse actions by the alcoholic spouse in the divorce proceeding. Some states, such as California, have “no-fault” divorce laws in place, which essentially means that the spouse or domestic partner seeking divorce is not required to prove that the other spouse did something wrong. This means that an individual seeking a divorce has the right to file for several valid reasons, including mental, emotional, or physical abuse.

Related: 10 Steps to Successfully Divorce an Addict

When Children Are Involved

Divorcing an alcoholic spouse may be more challenging when children are involved. The court is responsible for making a decision on custody focused on the child’s best interests. According to California Family Code, alcohol abuse is taken into serious consideration when evaluating child custody. Therefore, it is pertinent that the spouse filing for divorce proves that there is an alcohol abuse problem in the family. This may be accomplished through independent corroboration of evidence of the alcoholic spouse’s behavior or even police reports or testimonies from public agencies. As a result, custody arrangements will likely be affected if one parent is shown to have a past or current addiction. If the court decides that an alcoholic parent is allowed alternative solutions in order to still see their child, then in some cases that parent may be allowed:

  • Visitation rights when they are sober
  • Visits as long as there are no overnight stays
  • Supervised visitation
  • Visitation as long as they prove attendance at a rehabilitation facility or help group
  • Visitation as long as they are compliant with regular or random alcohol tests.

If an alcoholic parent has caused their child harm in the past or has blatantly disregarded the rules given to them by the court, they may be at risk of having their parental rights terminated altogether. Furthermore, in cases where an individual is seeking a divorce from their spouse due to child safety concerns, the court may appoint a child custody evaluator to formulate a case-specific child custody recommendation.

Related: Understanding Divorce with Children in California

When An Alcoholic Spouse is the Family’s Financial Support

There are also situations where an alcoholic spouse is functional in other aspects of life, including being a source of financial support. Therefore, for a spouse divorcing an alcoholic, it is incredibly important to consult an experienced family law attorney and financial professional to plan ahead. For example, planning may be needed in regards to a living situation if physical abuse is an issue, or protecting funds from different accounts if the alcoholic spouse has threatened to remove them. A spouse divorcing an alcoholic does not need to be left to deal with a lack of financial support due solely to their alcoholic partner.

FAQs About Divorcing an Alcoholic

How will divorcing an alcoholic affect my marital assets?

Most courts in the United States will attempt to be fair and equal when dividing a couple’s marital assets. However, if it can be proven that the alcoholic spouse used marital assets and funds to support their addiction, then the spouse struggling with alcoholism may face negative consequences during asset division.

What can you do if the alcoholic spouse refuses to assist in family financial support?

In a situation where an alcoholic is functional enough to work but refuses to do so, it may be wise for the wage-earning spouse and their lawyer to consider the relevance of the other spouse’s vocational examination. This essentially means that the court has the discretion to look at the “earning capacity” of each spouse in a divorce to make a ruling on spousal support.

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If you are seeking to divorce a spouse struggling with alcoholism, contact us. Get your free consultation with one of our Divorce Attorneys in California today!