Living with a spouse who is an alcoholic can be extremely stressful and devastating to a person’s mental health. Perhaps your spouse has been in and out of rehab or has refused to attempt to go to rehab. You may be wondering whether you can continue being in a marriage with someone who continues to consume too much alcohol.
Perhaps you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your child or children. If you are one of the many people considering divorcing an alcoholic, it is crucial that you understand your legal options and how alcoholism could impact your divorce. Taking steps to prepare for divorce can help you move through the process as smoothly as possible while protecting yourself and your children.
Understand That You Are Not Alone
As the spouse of an alcoholic, you may feel isolated and that you are going through this process alone. You may feel displaced guilt that you are preparing for a divorce or that you are not able to help your spouse who suffers from alcohol. It is important to understand that you are not alone.
Alcoholism affects many divorces. Alcoholism is one of the most commonly cited reasons for divorce. A spouse’s overuse of alcohol and drugs is one of the top three reasons for divorce. One study found that approximately 48% of marriages end in separation or divorce if one or both partners have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.
The Link Between Divorce and Alcoholism
Deciding to pursue a divorce with a partner with alcohol use disorder can feel scary, draining, overwhelming, and emotionally stressful. As you consider getting a divorce and begin the process, it is important to remember that the divorce and recovery process may take longer than you anticipated.
It is crucial that you have a healthy self-care routine. You may want to develop a strong support system for yourself before you begin the process. It is also important to think of self-care strategies you can put in place to help you mentally, physically, and emotionally as you begin moving through the process.
Deciding Whether or Not You Should Pursue a Divorce
If you are still unsure whether you should pursue a divorce or try to stay in your marriage with a spouse who has an alcohol use disorder, there are several factors you may be considering. Safety, a lack of trust, and a relationship deterioration may make it difficult to remain married to your spouse.
Alcoholism may not be the exclusive reason for the divorce. It could be one of many reasons you are considering getting divorced. When thinking about whether a divorce is the best option for you, there are several questions you should ask yourself, including the following:
- Are you setting an appropriate example for your kids regarding healthy relationships?
- Are you willing to work on repairing and rebuilding the relationship?
- Is your spouse willing to pursue treatment for their alcohol use disorder?
- Is your spouse willing to pursue marriage counseling to rebuild the relationship?
- How long have you been unhappy in your marriage?
If your spouse is not willing to pursue counseling and alcohol rehabilitation treatment, you may want to consider seeing a qualified mental health counselor yourself. They can guide you through the thought process of whether pursuing a divorce is right for you. Speaking to an attorney can also help you understand the divorce process if you decide to pursue a divorce. Pursuing a legal separation is also an option.
Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder, often called alcoholism, is a way for people who have it to block themselves from working through rejection, pain, abuse, or unhealthy attachments. A person with alcohol use disorder may not want or like to drink alcohol, but it can be difficult to overcome the disorder. Instead of the trauma or issue that led to the alcohol use disorder being the focus, alcoholism can become the focus, which can be easier for those who have been traumatized.
Alcohol use disorder can devastate loved ones, including a person’s spouse and children. When a person with alcohol use disorder refuses to get help and treatment, it can be especially frustrating for a spouse. Family members who live with an alcoholic can suffer psychological, social, and physical problems due to the core drinking problem of their family members. A recent study found that wives of alcoholics reported suffering increased emotional problems and used coping strategies in three major styles: engaged, tolerant, and withdrawn.
The problems faced by alcoholics have been discussed more widely in society, but unfortunately, applying interventions that reduce the pain and suffering of a partner or spouse of an alcoholic remains a challenge. Even when a spouse is supportive, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to remain in a marriage when the alcoholic spouse refuses to attempt to recover from their alcohol use disorder.
How Does Alcoholism Affect Divorce?
There are several ways that alcoholism can affect a divorce, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Child custody: a child custody evaluator may need to be appointed, and visitation restrictions may apply
- A restraining order may be put in place due to past abuse or property damage
- The judgment orders your spouse to undergo random alcohol testing, especially if he or she has child custody or visitation rights
- The judge may order your spouse to undergo alcohol use disorder treatment, especially if he or she has child custody or visitation rights
- The court may issue an order of protection if your spouse is volatile and at risk of harming you, your kids, draining your funds, or damaging your property
Staying Safe During the Divorce Process
If you are concerned for the safety of yourself or your children, you should speak to an attorney about pursuing a protective order against your alcoholic spouse. There are several types of protective orders, some of which are temporary and some more permanent and longer lasting. If you have an imminent fear for your safety, you can petition the court to issue an emergency protective order. Your spouse is not required to attend an emergency protective order hearing. There is always a risk that a spouse with alcoholism can become violent or enraged.
You may be concerned that your safety could be jeopardized if you tell your spouse you are considering pursuing a divorce. Discussing your case with an attorney and learning about options to keep yourself safe can be beneficial. Pursuing a protective order can help keep you safe and prevent your spouse from visiting your home or workplace or even contacting you in person, over the phone, or online.
Proving Alcoholism During a Divorce
Proving that your spouse is an alcoholic may benefit you during the divorce process. Texas is considered a no-fault divorce state, however. You do not have to prove one of the fault-based grounds for divorce to obtain a divorce in texas. Spouses can claim they have experienced an irretrievable marriage breakdown, considered a no-fault divorce. In this scenario, neither spouse is required to prove that the other spouse has done anything wrong.
However, proving alcoholism in a divorce court could benefit your case. If you decide to try to prove that your spouse has a substance abuse problem, including alcoholism, you will need to collect and demonstrate concrete evidence. Without evidence, the court will have no reason to make any changes concerning how your divorce case or child custody case is handled.
The Criteria for Being Considered an Alcoholic
The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual V includes alcohol use disorder as a formal diagnosis. The manual lists mild, moderate, and severe alcoholism based on the number of symptoms present. A therapist, counselor, doctor, or psychiatrist can give the formal diagnosis of alcohol use disorder when the patient has some or all of the following symptoms within the last year:
- Hyper-focused on drinking alcohol
- Spend a significant amount of time drinking or being sick due to drinking
- Attempted to cut down or stop drinking more than once but could not
- Drinking more than initially intended
- Drinking interferes with work, home, or school life
- Kept drinking despite understanding the negative side effects
- Cut back on or stop participating in activities that used to bring you joy to drink
- Increased risky behavior due to drinking
- Continue to drink despite increasing depression or anxiety symptoms
- Increased drinking tolerance
- Experienced withdrawal symptoms, including delirium tremens
Gathering Evidence You May Be Able to Use in Court
Proving that your spouse has a substance abuse problem can be an important part of your child custody case. for example, if your spouse is unable to care for your children in a safe manner because they are frequently intoxicated, you can benefit from presenting evidence of intoxication in court. Taking time to gather evidence of your spouse’s alcoholism can help you. Some of the examples of evidence you may be able to obtain and use include the following:
- Paper transactions showing the amount of money your spouse has invested in drugs or alcohol, such as frequent cash withdrawals or purchases at a local liquor market near your residence
- Photos of full, half-full, empty bottles of alcohol around your house
- Statements from counselors, social workers, probation officers, or law enforcement officials that have knowledge about your case. an attorney may be able to help you collect these types of witness statements through subpoenas or depositions
- Records of arrest or criminal charges related to alcoholism, such as public intoxication, getting into fights at sports games or bars, and DUI-related charges
- Emails, text messages, or other messages that show that your spouse was intoxicated or that this was a topic you have tried to address with your spouse in the past
Additionally, your own testimony can go a long way to help your case. You have probably witnessed your spouse’s alcoholism and the disturbing consequences of it. Your knowledge of your spouse’s dangerous habits, how much they drink at night, and their behaviors can help an evaluator or judge understand the significance of alcoholism and how it affected you during the marriage, along with your children. Your own witness testimony can help a judge decide to put protections in place for you and your children.
Child Custody Arrangements and Alcoholism
If you have children, the child custody agreement is probably at the forefront of your mind while considering divorce. There are many ways a partner’s alcoholism can affect the custody of your children when you are going through a divorce. If you and your spouse have joint custody, you may be concerned about your children’s safety while they are spending time with your alcoholic spouse.
Proving that your spouse is an alcoholic and that their alcoholism puts your children at risk physically and emotionally can help you pursue sole custody. In Texas, courts prefer to give both parents custody of their children so they can raise their children together. However, the most important factor in child custody cases is the children’s best interest. If your spouse’s alcoholism has gotten to the point that it puts your children in risky situations, a judge may decide to grant you sole physical custody.
Additionally, you may obtain a custody order requiring your spouse to get treatment for their alcoholism. For example, the order may state that your spouse must go to counseling for Alcohol Anonymous meetings. It may require your spouse to undergo random alcohol testing. If they fail to go to the meetings or skip a test, they may lose custody or have their child’s visitation restricted. The same can be true for a drug test.
How Does Alcoholism Impact Child Custody Arrangements?
Suppose you can prove your spouse’s alcohol addiction. In that case, there are multiple ways that a family court in Texas May modify your spouse’s custody and visitation, including, but not limited to, the following:
- The alcoholic parent may be required to live in a separate home from the children
- Visitation may be limited to phone calls, and it may be in your child’s best interest for you to screen those calls
- The alcoholic parent may be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or get counseling as a condition of custody
- The court may only allow your spouse to engage in supervised visits to help enforce sobriety rules
- The court may limit overnight visits
- The alcoholic parent may be required to abstain from drinking alcohol before and during visitation, meaning zero alcohol consumption
Talking to Your Children About Your Divorce
Going through a divorce is always challenging. Still, it can be especially difficult when there are children involved along with an alcoholic spouse. Your children may begin to ask you difficult questions, especially if they are preteens or older. It’s important to discuss the divorce honestly and in a way appropriate for their age. If you are having a difficult time speaking to your child about their other parent’s alcoholism, enlisting the help of a professional therapist can be helpful.
If your child asks why your spouse drinks so much, you may want to respond that it started as a way to cope with difficult situations and has become an issue that he or she cannot control any longer. If your child asks whether you are getting divorced because your spouse is drinking, you may want to answer honestly and tell them that drinking is a reason for the divorce. Finally, suppose your child asks you why the other spouse does not get help. In that case, you may be able to respond and say that you do not know why they are not ready for help yet, but that you will support them when they are ready to get help.
How Will My Spouse’s Alcoholism Affect the Division of Assets?
Generally, the court does not consider which spouse is at fault for the divorce when determining how to divide the assets in a divorce. However, if your spouse mismanaged your marital finances because of their alcoholism, you may be awarded more property. Doing so is a way of reimbursing you for those lost assets.
Alimony decisions are typically treated in the same manner. Courts consider multiple factors when deciding whether to award alimony and how long the alimony should continue. Working with an experience of a divorce attorney can help you gather evidence and develop a strategy for the best outcome possible when it comes to the division of your assets and alimony.
How to Protect Yourself Financially When Divorcing an Alcoholic
It is also important to understand how to protect yourself financially as you prepare to divorce a partner with alcoholism. One of the most important things you can do is have an emergency fund ready. Divorce can make people unpredictable, and they may react in surprising ways or out of character for them. Including alcohol abuse in the situation can only exacerbate that effect. You should also begin gathering critical documents you need and becoming organized.
If you are concerned that your spouse will begin using your credit cards and driving up your debt after you tell them you are considering divorce, you may want to freeze your credit. Freezing your credit prevents someone from taking credit in your name without your consent. You must contact each of the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion, and ask them to freeze your credit. You should also consider setting a withdrawal limit on any joint accounts. Changing the passwords for financial accounts can be helpful, as well as removing your alcoholic spouse as an authorized user.
Protecting Your Mental Health While Divorcing an Alcoholic
Protecting your mental health can help you as you move through a divorce. Doing so is even more important when dealing with a divorce involving a spouse with substance abuse problems. Ensure you eat healthy, stay hydrated, exercise, and get enough sleep. It is also important to get fresh air and take time to engage in activities you enjoy, even if it is only for 15 minutes at a time.
You may want to consider working with a professional therapist or counselor to help you understand your emotions. Spouses of people with alcohol use disorder may have experienced trauma. A professional can help you work through your trauma and help give you tools to cope with the stress from the divorce. It is okay to feel scared, lonely, sad, regretful, and any other emotions you may feel as you go through the divorce.
A trusted therapist can help you understand, endure, and soothe these emotions so you can move forward with your life. If you have children, you may want to consider pursuing family therapy. Divorce can be scary and confusing for children, especially when substance abuse issues are involved. Family therapy can help children understand what is happening and provide a support system.
What to Expect After Divorcing a Person With Alcohol Use Disorder
While you are preparing for a divorce or still in the process of divorce, it can be challenging to think about what your life will look like after your divorce has been finalized. Getting caught up in the present is easy, especially when dealing with the stress of getting a divorce. Nonetheless, thinking about your life after you get divorced can be a helpful exercise for your mental health. Visualizing your future life and goals can help you avoid being caught off guard when your divorce is finalized.
Contact an Experienced Divorce Concierge in McKinney, Texas
Discussing your options with an experienced attorney is one of the best things to do if you are considering a divorce. The attorneys at Divorce Concierge have extensive experience representing clients and divorces involving an alcoholic spouse. Our compassionate, empathetic attorneys will take the time to understand your case and answer any questions you have. We will work diligently to help you protect yourself with protective orders and an effective legal strategy for your divorce. Contact Divorce Concierge today to learn more about our divorce packages and hourly legal services.