No divorce is ever “easy”, but divorce from an addict can have its unique set of challenges.
Addiction is a serious problem, and it certainly causes its share of divorces. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 24 million Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol. The real number is even higher if we consider other types of addiction (such as gambling). The problem isn’t just the core addiction behavior but also its side effects like lying, stealing, cheating, and behaving irresponsibly (i.e. driving to pick up your child from school after a few drinks).
Living with an addict spouse is extremely stressful, costly, and frustrating. Many choose to end the marriage, which brings difficult decisions about how to proceed. This article will address some of the questions I get from clients who are contemplating a divorce from an addict.
Can you go through a collaborative divorce process with an addict spouse?
Addiction does not automatically disqualify a couple from using a collaborative process. However, it can make things more difficult. If you are dealing with an addict, my advice is to consider the collaborative route for your family because it can offer some benefits compared with the traditional litigation divorce. A collaborative case requires that the two spouses be willing to work together to find the best resolution for the family, so if you are dealing with abuse or abandonment this route may not be appropriate.
Keep in mind that the collaborative process can fail for a variety of reasons. Even healthy spouses don’t get a guaranteed outcome. Sometimes the depth and degree of addiction can hold the addict back from constructive participation in the collaborative process. On the other hand, those individuals may not be constructive in a traditional litigated case either.
Practical implications for your divorce
Why give collaborative divorce a chance? For one, the collaborative process can offer more privacy and greater control over the outcome than you have in a traditional litigated divorce. In the collaborative process, the addiction is not on display for everyone to see. The addict parent is not embarrassed by having personal details showcased in a courtroom. You get the benefit of working with a collaborative team of professionals that is trained to focus on finding ways to bring the couple to a mutually agreed parenting plan and property division. This means the spouses can be less blaming and more creative when searching for constructive solutions.
Compare that with a traditional divorce. Family courts in Texas are generally sensitive to addiction being a disease, but they are also required to make decisions that consider the safety and well-being of any minor children. To accomplish that, the court may insist on limited and supervised visitation, a completion of a treatment program, as well as random drug and alcohol tests. When an individual is backed into a corner, publicly embarrassed or humiliated, he or she tends to dig in and fight. If that is your only option, you must do whatever will keep your children and yourself safe. However, remember that this scenario is most traumatic for everyone involved.
A note of caution: even if you decide to work through the divorce collaboratively, take steps to safeguard your assets. This is a smart thing to do in any divorce, and twice so in a situation that involves an addict. Work with your attorney to ensure that the estate won’t be frivolously wasted.
What happens if you follow the traditional divorce route?
What should you expect if you follow a traditional divorce route?
The answer is, it depends.
Texas is a state that allows both no-fault and at-fault divorces, so you should consult with a few qualified attorneys to explore your options. Depending on your situation, abuse, adultery or abandonment may be valid grounds for a divorce, which means that you may be able to seek the divorce without the consent of your spouse.
Remember that in an at-fault divorce case, you will have to provide evidence and possibly testify. If you feel that your spouse is not capable of being a functional parent and provide a safe environment for your children, you may have to use his or her addiction as a lever. Be prepared that any accusation you level at your spouse can be directed back at you, i.e. your addict spouse’s attorney can push to make you undergo the same evaluations and tests.
Collaborative divorce and addiction
If you are dealing with a situation of addiction and are contemplating divorce, begin by consulting with one or two qualified attorneys. Do not automatically eliminate the collaborative divorce path unless your situation is clearly hostile and abusive. Don’t be afraid to ask how your professional team will deal with aspects of addiction that concern you. From keeping your children safe to making sure your combined assets are analyzed in terms of your secure financial future, your collaborative team is there to help.
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