Divorcing an Addicted Spouse
Dealing with addiction in a marriage is, sadly, a very common problem. According to a 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 24.6 million people are in a marriage where one spouse is an addict. Unfortunately, people who suffer from addictive behaviors, such as alcohol abuse or gambling, are also at a higher risk for divorce.
Being with someone who is suffering from an addiction can leave you feeling hurt and angry at their inability to change in order to save their marriage and family. If the help of therapy and counseling cannot save the marriage, then divorce may be the next step. Below is an introduction of what to expect when divorcing from an addicted spouse.
Finding the Right Lawyer
When you make the decision to divorce your spouse, one of the first steps is to secure the services of a divorce lawyer. In particular, finding an attorney who has worked on divorce cases where addiction has been involved will be extremely beneficial. Divorce lawyers with experience in this area will know the mechanics of the divorce process for your unique situation and are likely to know what you are thinking and feeling.
Protecting Your Children
In divorces where there are children involved, you may wish to restrict your addicted spouse’s access to your children for safety purposes. If this is the case, then it is wise to begin gathering all possible evidence of your addictive spouse’s problematic behavior. This could include times when they have acted dangerously while under the influence or situations where they have been unable to safely care for your children. Sharing this kind of information with your lawyer, and ultimately with a judge, will assist the process of protecting your children.
Court Rulings on Child Custody
During a divorce, addiction is sure to factor into the child custody ruling. Although there are many considerations the court must weigh in a custody matter, it will ultimately come down to what is best for the child. New Jersey’s custody statute – N.J.S.A. 9:2-4 – mandates that family courts must consider the “fitness” of each parent in all child custody rulings. The statute asserts that a parent is deemed unfit if his or her conduct has a “substantial adverse effect on the child.” Furthermore, the court may eventually require your spouse to undergo drug and alcohol testing before they are granted unsupervised visitation time with the children.
Protecting Your Assets
A very common problem among people who are suffering from addiction is reckless spending. Addicts can quickly dry up funds when fueling their habits; therefore, it is wise to take steps to protect your assets when dealing with an addicted spouse. Your attorney can advise you on the best way to go about this, but a good place to start is by placing your money in separate accounts. Also, you may want to remove your spouse as an authorized user on any credit cards you share. This action will ensure that they are not able to run up charges and potentially leave you with debt.
Court Rulings on Alimony
Alimony is awarded in the State of New Jersey under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, the alimony statute. One factor within this statute holds that “physical and emotional health” is considered when the court is determining alimony payments.
Judges also understand that there is a risk when awarding alimony to a spouse with substance abuse issues. A court may choose to restrict an alimony award to a financially dependent spouse with addiction problems to avoid enabling their behavior. In cases where the addicted spouse is eligible to receive alimony support, the court can order payments in the form of direct payment of rent or other expenses. Some courts may require successful completion of rehabilitation, counseling, or other forms of treatment prior to receiving alimony.
Divorce, especially in cases where addiction is involved, can feel overwhelming and emotionally draining. However, by taking the necessary steps beforehand to find a qualified attorney and protect your children and assets, you can be prepared to transition to a new and healthy life for you and your family. To determine how your spouse’s addiction issues may affect the guardianship of your children and your obligation to pay alimony, it is recommended that you speak with an experienced family law attorney.
For more information regarding divorcing an addicted spouse and how to protect your family and assets contact the law office of Lyons & Associates. At the law office of Lyons & Associates, we represent men and women throughout New Jersey who have unresolved family law matters. We place a premium on personalized service and attention. For a private consultation, contact us, on our website at www.lyonspc.com, or call our office at 908-575-9777.
Written by: Noelle Carey