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Alcoholism: The Unlucky Charm for Divorce

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St. Patty’s Day has recently passed and undoubtedly people all over the world were merry with intoxication. While overconsumption of alcohol is practically a tradition for people on this day, alcoholism is one of the biggest causes for divorce in North America. Recently there has been an increase in spouses claiming that the other is an alcoholic. In court, this becomes a point of serious contention, especially when there are young children involved and there are parenting issues requiring resolution such as custody and access

There is often guilt associated with such cases, because it is challenging to leave someone who has no control over their addiction, challenging to realize that there is nothing you can do to change the addict’s behaviour and perhaps most challenging to negotiate a resolution with the addict in a rational manner given that they often continue to deny their addiction throughout the divorce case.

The problem with alcoholism is that inevitably, it becomes the family secret that no one wants to talk about. The non-alcoholic spouse may feel compelled to cover up for the other spouse’s alcoholic behaviour, hiding it from friends and family until hiding the addiction no longer becomes possible or practical.

The first issue often becomes proving the addiction. Alcoholics can be fully functioning and have often developed clever ways to conceal their addiction. This can be done in several ways. You can request that the person attend for drug testing, you can ask family and friends to provide affidavits, or sometimes, you can even ask the person’s doctor for their thoughts. Any documents or videos (emails, facebook etc.) that you can gather indicating alcoholic behavior might assist as you navigate through your divorce case.

The second issue that arises during divorce cases involving addiction issues (which is often tied to the first issue), is the non-alcoholic spouse’s concern about the alcoholic spouse having parenting time with the children. This issue becomes particularly difficult when the alcoholic spouse refuses to acknowledge that they have a problem (as is often the case). There is no easy fix to this parenting issue. It will have to be determined on a case by case basis but some options would potentially include, supervised access (either at a supervised access center or at a relative’s home), day visits (as alcoholics sometimes only drink at night) and so on.
A third frequent issue in cases involving alcoholics is their spending. It is not uncommon for addicts to spend unreasonable amounts of money feeding their addiction. Sometimes the spending is concealed by way of hidden credit cards and sometimes it is out in the open, taken right from joint accounts. This spending can occur during the marriage and continue post-separation. Either way, it is usually something that needs to be investigated as it may give rise to certain adjustments or credits in favour of the non-alcoholic spouse.

It is essential that you retain a lawyer that can guide you through a divorce from an alcoholic, or any addict. These cases require extreme sensitivity both in terms of gathering evidence and in terms of negotiations and strategy. While the issues often seem overwhelming to the non-alcoholic spouse, these cases are much more common than one would think, and they are increasing in frequency. A family law lawyer will have the expertise necessary to provide you with advice throughout your matter as it relates to evidence, custody, access and property.

About the Author

Cheryl Goldhart and the team of lawyers at Goldhart & Associates work exclusively in the area of family law. They have the experience and dedication to assist clients achieve their objectives.

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