How Substance Abuse Impacts Divorce

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Countless factors contribute to the end of a marriage. Every situation unfolds differently, but drugs and alcohol too often play into divorce. Hugely detrimental to relationships, the question remains of how substance abuse impacts divorce.

Addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, and more affects millions of people and often has a catastrophic effect on families. Beyond personal problems, substance abuse impacts divorce and the divorce process in a number of ways. Some are expected, others less so.

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When Does Substance Abuse Affect Divorce?

At this point, all 50 states, including Oregon, practice no-fault divorce. What this means is that, in order to dissolve a marriage, there’s no requirement for blame. Neither spouse is “innocent” or “guilty” in the court’s eyes. All the law requires is for one spouse to declare a marriage broken, without hope of repair.

Basically, if you ask for a divorce, whatever the underlying reason, the court will grant it.

At least as long as you’re legally married and follow the proper procedure. Aside from that, there’s no need to show a specific cause.

What this means is that, though substance abuse may be at the root of your divorce, it’s not always as impactful to the process. At least in the mechanics. Instead of asking why, the court focuses more on the fact that you want a divorce.

While the reasons don’t necessarily factor in the process, there are still places where substance abuse impacts divorce. Where and how greatly vary from situation to situation, but it often affects settlements, child custody, and more.

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How Substance Abuse Affects Child Custody

When it comes to determining custody, the court sets the best interests of any children above all other concerns. And this is one key area where substance abuse impacts divorce in a big way.

If there’s a pattern of behavior that shows drinking or drugs damage parental ability, it’s less likely that the court will award that parent custody.

Things like casual drinking or, now that it’s legal, recreational marijuana use likely won’t move the meter much. Illegal drugs will probably have much more of an influence.

Regardless of the substance in question, however, if it puts the kids in harm’s way, judges don’t look kindly on that.

Multiple drunk driving arrests or disappearing and going on three-day benders, these things negatively affect custody hearings. They don’t paint a picture of a stable, responsible parent.

Depending on the severity of the addiction, the court has a number of ways to proceed. If a judge thinks a child is at risk, they may require supervision for all visitation. Often, this is the other parent or even an outside professional.

A judge may even deny any overnight visits. Courts also often require regular drug or alcohol screenings, and continued visitation may hinge on participation in a treatment program. It’s not uncommon for the court to require a parent to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or go through similar programs.

In general, the worse things are, the harsher the consequences.

Serious cases may result in one parent getting sole custody and the addicted parent receiving no visitation at all. It’s even possible for a judge to terminate custodial rights completely.

This is usually reserved for the extreme end of the spectrum, like if a parent actually injures the child or puts them at risk. But judges don’t want things to get that far, so they often proceed with caution.

Related Reading: How Legal Marijuana Affects Custody

What About the Division of Property?

The division of property is a huge part of the process and is another spot where substance abuse can impact divorce. Courts don’t use splitting marital assets as a punishment, but excessive drug or alcohol use may still play a role depending on the situation.

Most often, substance abuse factors into the division of property when it directly impacts a couple’s finances.

Did one spouse run up excessive bills on a joint credit card at the bar? Did they steal items to sell or trade for drugs? What if the blow through shared savings getting wasted?

In all of these examples and more, substance abuse can impact divorce and property division.

If this is the case, the court may use this step to balance things out. It’s possible for a judge to award the wronged spouse a bigger piece of the couple’s shared to make up for this. It doesn’t always, but it happens more often in this type of situation.

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Can It Affect Spousal Support?

Substance abuse can affect spousal support in much the same way it can impact the division of property.

Again, if a spouse’s actions negatively impact a couple’s financial standing, the judge can award alimony. If one spouse drains a joint bank account pursuing an addiction, the court may call for additional spousal support.

If you worry about your spouse gutting your savings or racking up debts, taking steps to protect your finances may be in order.

It’s possible to put money in separate bank accounts in only your name or to place valuable items in storage so they can’t be sold. Steps like this often help limit the potential financial fallout.

Interestingly enough, when it comes to spousal support, substance abuse can also have an unexpected effect.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes the court awards additional financial assistance to the addicted spouse.

They may require help getting on their feet and finding treatment. This most commonly happens when this individual is earnest about reclaiming their life. Again, this is fairly rare, but it can happen.

Coping with addiction is never easy, whether it’s your own or a loved one. Drugs and alcohol have ruined countless relationships. While it can be devastating on a personal level, substance abuse impacts divorce in a variety of ways.

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