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Divorcing A Spouse With A Substance Abuse Disorder

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that more than 16 million adults suffered from some form of alcohol abuse disorder in 2014. And a 2012 study discovered that more than 10 percent of our nation's children live with a parent suffering from alcohol-related issues. When you include other forms of substance abuse, the total number of addicts jumps to 22.2 million adults who were dealing with a disorder in 2014. Clearly, drug and alcohol abuse are prevalent issues that touch many U.S. families.

Addiction and substance abuse are difficult and complex issues. Being married to an addict can sink a marriage. Divorcing a partner with substance abuse may be the healthiest option for you and and your children. If you have decided to take this step, it may be helpful to learn how your spouse's addiction may impact your dissolution.

No Grounds

California has done away with fault-based grounds for divorce. In our state, no-fault divorces that don't assign blame to either party are the rule. However, this does not mean that you are unable to bring evidence of your spouse's substance abuse if it has bearing on child custody issues and other factors in your marriage.

Child Custody

The biggest impact your partner's addiction may have on your divorce case is the area of child custody. The best interests of the child is the prevailing factor in determining custody and visitation. If you have evidence of both your spouse's substance abuse and how it detrimentally impacts your child, the court will give this information great weight.

The California Family Code addresses this issue in section 3011(3)(d), stating that the "habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances" (to include alcohol and controlled substances) is a consideration for determining the child's best interests. Mere accusations are not sufficient. Proof is necessary. Bear this in mind when you are preparing to separate from your spouse.

Property Division

Typically, substance abuse has no direct bearing on asset division in California. But there are time when your partner's actions may have an indirect influence on property division. Drug addicts and alcoholics are often impulsive and reckless with finances. If your ex has demonstrated this behavior with your community property, your family lawyer may be able to argue that in court in order to fight for a more equitable division to offset the losses they caused.

In addition to deciding issues in your divorce, you may have to contend with anger and irrational behavior from your ex. Divorce is a contentious experience, and substance abuse further exacerbates the situation. Your safety and that of your children is paramount. Do be sure to inform your attorney of your partner's substance abuse problems at the beginning of your case, to develop a personalize strategy for your specific circumstances.

Sources: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics, http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=FAM&sectionNum=3011

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