Addiction & Divorce: 5 Tips For Navigating The Rough Waters Ahead
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By Melissa Cohen, Guest Author - February 29, 2016


Whatever the underlying reason for addiction, commit to whatever is necessary to address it. Your support system could include a sponsor, a 12-step program, regular therapy – or all of the above.

There are a hundred different reasons that a marriage can fail. As divorce attorneys, we see the same reasons over and over. Nothing shocks us, we often tell our clients, and the reasons you are getting divorced rarely matter to the Court, who I can promise has also heard it all before.

Substance abuse, however, is a different category altogether. Substance abuse can wreak havoc on a marriage, often ending in divorce. And, if there are children involved, it will be one of the times that the Court sits up and takes notice. 

So, you think you have a problem with alcohol and drugs. Your marriage is over. You have children. Does this signal the end of your relationship with your children? What do you do and where do you go to ensure that this does not affect your relationship with your children long term? Here are some helpful tips that will help you navigate the rough waters ahead:

1. Be honest with yourself.  

How severe are your issues? Have you exposed your children to unsafe behaviors, like driving under the influence with the children in the car? Have substances caused you to be verbally, mentally or physically abusive? Take stock of your issues, so you can make a plan on how to address them.  And while we are talking honesty…

2. Be honest with your attorney.  

So it is at the point of no return in your marriage, and divorce is on the horizon.  Do not wait to consult with an attorney. And when you do, make sure you tell the attorney all of the issues you are facing. Since there is attorney-client privilege, you can, and should, speak freely. The divorce attorney is usually an excellent source of information for resources in the area where your divorce will be litigated. Substance abuse issues can have a huge impact upon custody and parenting time matters, and your counsel cannot formulate a strategy, or help you by engaging in damage control if you are not honest about your problems. Don’t be the client who fails a urine screen at Court without giving the attorney the heads up.  Once you have this honest conversation with the attorney, it is time to…

3. Get ahead of the problem.  

Often, the non-addicted spouse will start a divorce litigation while the addicted spouse is still struggling with addiction.  This is a difficult situation, especially when facing a custody litigation.  Remember, it is the Court’s most important job to ensure the safety of the children, and all judges are going to err on the side of caution to protect them.  Often, the addicted spouse is afraid to get help because they fear that admitting the problem will negatively impact their custody case. 

This is the exact opposite of how you should approach the problem. If you can get help before a litigation starts, all the better. We have counseled many clients to start to treat the addiction during the litigation – even entering in-patient rehabilitation treatment. People often fear doing this, concerned with the appearance that going to rehab means you are so unstable you cannot be safe to be around your children. On the contrary, we have seen successful results – and even clients who end up with physical custody- with clients who enroll in and successfully complete treatment. 

Commit to getting better, and prove that you have addressed the problems. Attend therapy with the children to aid in the healing process. The most important thing is to show a commitment to sobriety and to follow the treatment plan created for you by trusted professionals. Talking about the professionals who can help you…

4. Treat the underlying issues.  

Often, people struggling with substance abuse are masking an underlying problem. Frequently, we have seen untreated anxiety or depression, and people are self-medicating with substances. Whatever the underlying reason is, commit to whatever is necessary to address it. Your support system could include a sponsor, a 12-step program, regular therapy – or all of the above. And while you are putting yourself together a support system, make sure you…

5. Surround yourself with positive influences.  

Divorce litigation is not a fun process. You will get through it, but the best way is to surround yourself with positive influences. The lawyer, therapist, and sponsor are all part of your support system but it helps to have others – trusted friends and family who will help support you through the hard times. Cut negative influences out of your life and rely upon the people who are really there for you. 

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