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Divorce and Addiction

Living with a spouse who is battling addiction can be heartbreaking. The disease may rob them of reason, compassion and relationships with loved ones, including children. This one time soul mate is now someone who cannot be trusted to go buy groceries, pick up the kids or help support the family.

According to a recent survey on drug use and health, 24.6 million Americans are involved in a marriage where one spouse has substance abuse issues. Living with someone who is fighting alcoholism, drug addiction or some other form of addiction can leave a spouse feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and conflicted. The marriage is supposed to be until death do us part, yet a spouse's destructive tendencies are a danger to the family and themselves.

Issues in divorcing an addicted spouse

As with any divorce, the well-being of the children should be the priority. According to addiction experts, this means issues need addressing:

  • Do you allow the other parent to have partial custody or visitation?
  • What, if anything, changes if they seek treatment?
  • Is there a stated period of sobriety or non-addictive behavior before resuming visits or coparenting activities?
  • What happens if they have a relapse?

A parenting agreement with an addict

Some attorneys have experience working with families where a parent is an addict. Perhaps the spouse is taking steps to heal, but the marriage is irreparably damaged. A parenting agreement should reflect the circumstances and issues of the divorce:

  • Put all the usual parenting agreement details in writing if applicable, such as visiting times, holidays, responsibilities, etc.
  • Include expectations for behavior on the coparent's part, such as sobriety in the presence of the children
  • Seek final approval over activities (such as travel)
  • Stipulate when or if the child or parent is to check in if they have the kids
  • Stipulate if or how often there is to be drug testing
  • Indicate the consequences if there are any violations of the rules

Modifications may be possible in the future

Sticking to the agreement is crucial if the parent is newly sober or trying to kick their addiction. As time goes on, there may be room to modify the agreement as they prove themselves reliable and trustworthy. Avoid the temptation to punish the addict for past transgressions, but continue to hold them accountable. In Colorado, it is often appropriate to use a Decision Maker or Arbitrator appointed under Colorado Revised Statutes, 14-10-128.3 and 14-10-128.5 in these roles.  An experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney can help a parent filing for divorce and drafting a parenting plan, even under these most difficult of circumstances. 

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