Tonight’s post on Substance Abuse and Divorce was written by our Marietta family law attorney, Darrin Keaton.
When you combine the already high stress atmosphere of a divorce with the damage that comes from substance abuse, it becomes a recipe for disaster.
I have often come across scenarios where a client seeks a divorce, not necessarily because they have fallen out of love, but because they are exhausted from the struggle their spouse is having with substance abuse. The custodial outcomes of these cases are not difficult to predict. The ‘clean’ parent gets primary custody and the addicted parent gets limited (mostly supervised) parenting time with the children.
Representing the non-using parent is not particularly difficult.
But what about the parent who is struggling with the addiction? Most of the time in these cases the evidence would show that the addicted parent was a good and attentive parent prior to the addiction. Is all hope lost on this, or is there at least some prospect of normalcy ahead for the addict? When representing these individuals it is often part of my job to let them know that while their situation may be dire, it is not hopeless.
The first priority is making certain that the opposing side and judge know the safety of the children is paramount. Don’t run away from the truth and let them know you understand the seriousness of the addiction. Then you must provide a framework of steps to accomplish, that if accomplished successfully, will achieve a more standard parenting time schedule, without the harsh restrictions.
We can look to the Juvenile Court model of ‘reunification’ for ideas. In Juvenile Court, the goal is not to permanently take children from struggling parents, but to protect the children and provide a framework, called a ‘case plan’, whereby the children may be reunified with the parent. This often includes assessment, treatment and random testing. And once a parent has accomplished those goals successfully (usually including at least 6 months of clean drug or alcohol screens) the reunification may occur.
So an addicted parent in a divorce can show the judge a ‘case plan’ that will provide steps to show responsibility, sobriety and accountability such that standard parenting time would be resumed. Too often, attorneys aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and do some heavy lifting for their struggling client. In those cases, the end result is often a parenting plan with restrictions permanently in place and one parent having complete control over all aspects of the children’s lives, which includes deciding any parenting time for the addicted parent. This is wrong. A parent who turns their life around and can definitively show they are clean should be let back into the fold of normal parental time.
At the Manely Firm, we do that heavy lifting for clients who have struggled with addiction. We do not excuse the behavior, but work with the client and addiction professionals to assist the parent in being able to prepare for their post-marriage life by getting sober for themselves, for the court, and most importantly, for their children.