How can alcohol use affect a divorce?
It is Mardi Gras season here in Mobile, Alabama and, while we all enjoy a little revelry, there is no denying the fact that alcohol use often turns into alcohol misuse and even alcohol abuse. You may be wondering how can alcohol use can affect a divorce?
Did you know that heavy alcohol use is very strongly correlated with divorce?
In other words, if one spouse is a heavy drinker or has an alcohol use disorder, the couple is much more likely to get divorced.
Studies have shown that 50% of people with an alcohol use disorder get divorced at some point in their lives, whereas only 30% of people without an alcohol use disorder get divorced.
Divorce and Alcohol Abuse go hand-in-hand in other ways as well. Divorce is one of the most stressful and traumatic life events that anyone can go through, and a lot of people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism during times of extreme stress.
Alcohol may seem like a quick fix but it is more harmful than helpful as a coping mechanism.
When you are going through a divorce, your sleep is likely to be disrupted – Alcohol makes that worse. Divorce can also cause feelings of depression, anxiety, shame, and anger – Alcohol exacerbates all of those feelings.
If there is domestic violence in your marriage – Alcohol almost always makes violence more severe.
How do you know if you or your spouse has an alcohol problem? Here are a few common signs:
- History of alcohol-related arrests, particularly traffic offenses such as DUIs.
- Difficulty maintaining employment
- Interpersonal relationship issues in a variety of contexts such as family, friends, and coworkers
- Medical issues that could be addressed by reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption
- Excessive spending on alcohol
- Making or changing plans to accommodate alcohol use
- Refusing to stop drinking even when it causes a detrimental effect on the person’s well-being and the well-being of others around them
- Family and friends have raised concerns about your drinking
If you are concerned that you may be turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism too much or if your spouse has accused you of having an alcohol problem, the best thing you can do is to stop drinking.
If you are unable to do that on your own, seek help. If you have any concerns that you are physically dependent on alcohol, you must have medical supervision to stop drinking as your health can become significantly endangered.
If you feel strongly that your spouse has an alcohol use disorder, and they refuse to seek help or stop drinking, your only option may be to get divorced for your own well-being and maybe even your safety.
How does alcohol use affect a divorce?
If one spouse in a divorce has an alcohol use disorder, the Court has the discretion to conclude that they are at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.
If the Court finds that one spouse is at fault, then they may sanction that spouse by awarding them a smaller share of the marital estate or ordering them to pay the other spouse’s attorney’s fees.
If you have minor children, a parent’s abuse or misuse of alcohol can be a very significant factor in your case.
In a divorce, the best interests of the children are of paramount importance. The Court will not want to place the children in a situation that is dangerous; however, if you have concerns that your spouse’s drinking is dangerous, you will have to be able to prove it.
Possible sources of proof include your testimony, the eyewitness testimony of others, criminal records, financial records, medical records, photos, videos, audio recordings, and text messages.
If there is a concern that the person will still drink even if Court-ordered not to, the Court can put alcohol monitoring in place through Soberlink or a similar program.
In general, alcohol abuse and misuse make divorce even more difficult than it already is.
If your spouse has the problem, then they are very likely to make the divorce more contentious and difficult than it already is. If you have the problem, then you are making an already challenging situation even more challenging for yourself, and you need to seek help if you cannot quit on your own.
Even if you don’t have a problem, there are much healthier coping mechanisms than alcohol, such as therapy, exercise, quality time with loved ones, and getting enough sleep.
The metaphor I often use with clients is that alcohol during a divorce is like pouring gasoline on a fire. For your own mental health, physical safety, and the well-being of your children if you have children, avoid alcohol during your divorce if you have any questions or concerns about your alcohol use.
If you think you need help or are seeking help for a loved one with an alcohol use disorder, you can call the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-4357 to obtain confidential help from public health agencies to find substance use treatment and information.
Author: Alison Herlihy
Family law attorney Alison Herlihy is a native of Mobile, Alabama. Alison has engaged in the private practice of family law since 2005, focusing primarily on domestic relations, divorce and child support, child custody law, adoption law, juvenile, probate practice, and wills.
Alison Baxter Herlihy earned the prestigious AV Preeminent peer review rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which recognizes attorneys for the highest levels of legal ability and professional ethical standards. Alison is a certified Guardian Ad Litem. In 2015, Alison became a Registered Mediator on the Alabama State Court Mediator Roster, in both general and domestic relations mediation.