Addressing Alcohol Abuse in Child Custody and Divorce
Couples decide to divorce for a variety of reasons, though finances and the stresses of parenthood are often at the top of the list. However, one factor that greatly increases the likelihood a marriage will end is alcohol or other forms of substance abuse.
Forming and maintaining intimate relationships with spouses and children when judgment is routinely impaired, and priorities are more often focused on finding the next drink, is almost impossible. This behavior can leave other family members feeling unsupported and neglected. Moreover, these issues can be of particular importance if the addicted spouse is entitled to ask for parenting time in a divorce.
The safety and security of minor children is a general societal concern, and both the Courts and state agencies have a vested interest in protecting children from possible harm due to a parent’s alcoholic tendencies. One woman, who was recently arrested in the Chicago area for drunk driving and dubbed “one of the worst DUI offenders in the U.S.,” lost custody of her 11 children due to past behavior and the number of convictions and outstanding warrants on her record. Alcoholism can cause a huge disruption in a person’s life, and this does not end when a divorce case is filed.
Alcoholism in the Divorce
While alcoholism may be a catalyst for divorce, the relevance on the divorce itself depends upon the spouse’s behavior and the addiction’s impact on the health and safety of the family. In other words, if a spouse drinks at levels the other spouse believes to be excessive, but there is no discernable preoccupation with alcohol, problems functioning day-to-day, or withdrawal, bringing the issue to the attention of the Court may not be necessary or helpful.
If, on the hand, an alcoholic spouse poses a danger to one’s self, the other spouse, or the children, the Court definitely needs to have this information from the beginning so the issue may be factored into the final divorce settlement.
In addition, if an addicted spouse depletes marital assets to support his or her drinking, this fact could influence how a Court decides to divide property, and whether a request for spousal support should be granted.
Child Custody Issues
Normally, both parents in a divorce can expect to receive some amount of parenting time, as until proven otherwise, parents are viewed as fit. However, when an addiction is impeding a person’s judgment and the ability to ascertain between right and wrong, the potential danger to the child needs to be assessed. To flesh out the degree of danger, the other spouse should request a mental evaluation to determine how likely the alcoholic spouse is to hurt another person or him/herself.
Further, even if there is no threat of violence, the addicted spouse could still suffer from impairments that limit his or her ability to safely and effectively parent. The best interests of the child always control what type of parenting arrangement a Court will order or approve, and the Judge is primarily looking at which structure will best support the child’s well-being and welfare.
Evidence that a parent is unsuitable to exercise parenting time must be produced if restricted or sole parental responsibility is requested. For example, a parent who regularly drinks to the point of blacking out cannot be trusted to properly supervise a child. Note, however, that if such a parent attends a substance abuse recovery program, he or she may be able to gain more time with the children.
Speak with an Illinois Divorce Attorney
Substance abuse has the potential to destroy many lives. If you are seeking to divorce a spouse with an addiction problem, you need the advice and support of an attorney experienced with this issue. Dedicated Inverness family law attorney Nicholas W. Richardson understands the unique and stressful implications of this complicated problem and can help you get the results your family needs. Contact the office for a free initial consultation.