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Divorcing a Spouse with an Addiction


There are many reasons a marriage may not last, and addiction or substance abuse is one of the more common issues. This dynamic puts very large and overwhelming stresses on a marriage that destabilize interaction and rob the other spouse of trust and faith in the addicted spouse’s ability to do what is best for the family. Divorcing a spouse with substance abuse issues will present additional challenges, and greatly impacts any parenting plan or timesharing arrangement the couple may want to otherwise make. Reliability, safety, and the capacity to support a child are all called into question, and will likely push the other parent to consider what kind of custody arrangement would work in these circumstances. Normally, Florida favors shares parental responsibility, but when substance abuse, which can include abuse of alcohol or drugs, impairs a person’s ability to recognize danger, respond to the needs of others, or make rational decisions, this model is unworkable. In some instances, the addicted spouse will make efforts to address his/her problem, such as in the divorce of actors Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, which is delayed as he tries to firmly establish sobriety. However, even when help is sought, child custody concerns remain, and the other parent must remain ready to push for restricted or sole custody if the child’s welfare cannot be protected otherwise. A discussion of how to prove the other spouse is in fact an impaired parent, and the types of custody options a court may consider in these situations, will follow below.

Identifying an Impaired Parent

As alluded to above, courts strongly favor shared parental responsibility, and will actively seek to keep both parents very involved in the child’s life. When addiction is present, and the other parent wants to limit the impaired parent’s time and influence over the child, he/she will need to prove both that an impairment exists, and that it poses a detriment to the child. Demonstrating the existence of an addiction requires more than allegations, and particular requests and steps should be made to ensure the court has the information it needs to understand the severity of the situation. Note that the following points are made with the assumption that the addiction is not controlled, which presents a real potential danger if the child is left in the parent’s care. Starting with signs of drug use usually present in the home, these include: empty glass vials, razor blades, syringes, crushed pills, empty liquor bottles/beer cans, and variations in the spouse’s behavior. Proving this situation typically starts with statements from the other spouse, third party witnesses, and police reports, if available. Beyond these indicators, the other parent can ask for urine testing, hair testing, and an appointment of a guardian ad litem to advocate for the child’s best interests. Basically, the more evidence that can be produced to show uncontrolled and dangerous addiction, the more willing a court will be to curtail parental responsibility.

Custody Options

The best interests of the child are always the foremost concern of the court, and the standard by which all child custody decisions are made. A long list of factors is used to evaluate how to protect and promote the best interests of the child, and one of these factors specifically refers to the ability of each parent to maintain an environment that is free from substance abuse. Evidence that this type of environment is not present would go far in convincing a court to order supervised parenting time, or give sole custody to the sober parent. Ultimately, the facts of each case will dictate how restrictive the judge is willing to go.

Contact an Orlando Divorce Lawyer

Substance abuse, in whatever form, is an issue that affects every aspect of the abuser’s life. If you are concerned your child’s other parent has addiction problem that exposes your child to danger, talk to a family law attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at the Donna Hung Law Group offer years of experience to clients with child custody and other family law issues, and are available to advise you on the best course of action. Contact the Orlando law firm today at (407) 999-0099 for a consultation.