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Under the Influence: How Courts Look at Recovery

September is National Recovery Awareness Month, which addresses both alcohol and substance abuse. It isn’t an uncommon disease to contend with, but how does it affect your case? Obviously, courts are very concerned with sobriety and ensuring that, where help is needed, they step in to require treatment. Because of that, I would encourage anyone dealing with substance or alcohol abuse to seek treatment on your own terms. Even if it’s “just weed,” it remains illegal in Georgia. It can be a roll of the dice as to how the Judge assigned to your case views marijuana use. To a few it might be no big deal. To some, it might be end of the line.

After the issue of treatment, the court then looks at the impact of the use and inebriation on the relationship at issue. Courts consider the conduct during the marriage when making awards on equitable division of assets in a divorce. The court will primarily look to ensure that the substance or alcohol use didn’t lead to damaging any assets, both physical and financial. Obviously if a DUI occurred and a car was wrecked, a fight ended in broken furniture or a hole in the wall, or an arrest required that bail be posted, that could create a big impact on what you might receive or be entitled to in the divorce.  It is similarly impactful if a large portion of financial assets were lost to addiction, such as spending a large amount on your supply, or losing it in ways such as gambling while under the influence.

The story is definitely more complex when there are children involved. If your children were witness to your inebriation, or victim to bad behavior while you were inebriated, this can greatly affect the determination of custody and visitation. Take stock of their knowledge and exposure and address it head-on. In many cases, more substantial treatment than AA meetings is required of a parent seeking to establish continued and regular parenting time.

Always be ready to own up and address those things up front, as it is far better to be prepared and honest before issues are discovered. Chances are that your partner or co-parent will have seen the worst side of you when you were using and it can often make people resentful. I would always assume that you should prepare for it to come up. Enter into a program on your own terms prior to filing, or immediately if a case has been filed against you. If you’re already in a program to address your addiction, you may want to be ready to have proof of your involvement and your progress.

The program is intended to better your health and ability to be a present parent and to limit the immense impact that addiction has on your children. Ultimately, being proactive, direct, and zealous in your recovery is the best way to help your case, yourself and your children if there are any concerns about your use or history of use.

Kaitie Ruhl-Pirone