How To Handle Substance Abuse In Your Divorce

divorce tips for men alcohol divorceBy Jennifer M. Paine

Divorce Lawyer, Cordell & Cordell

If you feel like your life is an episode of “Intervention” except your spouse refuses to acknowledge her problem, let alone accept treatment, you are not alone.

Substance abuse in divorce remains a problem dealt with mainly in the home or, more often, not at all.

Anecdotally, this is a trend the divorce lawyers for men at Cordell & Cordell see in our offices. While more clients come to us having gone through treatment personally or supported their spouse through treatment, most refuse to discuss the problem or treatment.

Many have gone years keeping their or their spouse’s problem hidden from family and friends.

Add to this the confusion of the divorce process, and none are willing to have the problem featured in their divorce – preferring instead to brush it aside and deal with later.

That’s a mistake. Here are divorce tips for men you should use when substance abuse is a part of your divorce and child custody case.


1. Speak with a specialist before staging an “intervention.”

Though your life might feel like an episode of “Intervention,” you should not stage your own intervention without thoroughly discussing your options with a substance abuse specialist. If you do not know one or cannot afford one, contact your local community health office for a referral.

You will want to know at a minimum whether an intervention is appropriate. If so, you will want to know how to go about it and who to have present.

Be cautious of the “display” you create because your actions are admissible into court against you. If you go overboard in front of family and friends – and, worse, your children – your judge will hear about it.

Be sure to have a timeline for any treatment you offer and your spouse accepts, and documentation to preserve your assets and protect your children in the meantime. This would include orders for temporary parenting time and releases for you to make your children’s medical, educational and other important life decisions.

Finally, be sure to have a back-up plan if the intervention is unsuccessful, such as an emergency motion hearing to establish or modify child custody or alimony, and keep your lawyer in the loop.


2. Discuss your legal options and your timing.

Similarly, talk to your lawyer early and often about the options available to your family within the courthouse.

Many courts have specialized drug treatment programs that are available at no or a low cost to families. These programs may go hand-in-hand with parenting classes, family counseling and psychological evaluations, and they may or may not allow the abusing parent immunity from criminal sanctions so long as the parent completes the program successfully.

Your lawyer will know what programs are available to you. You may have to request an emergency hearing at the outset of your case or when you discover the abuse to address your children and your assets immediately, as well.

Be sure to strategize with your lawyer so that you make the best use of your time at the right time. Generally, emergency motions for child custody or to restrain assets should occur at the beginning of your case because a judge is likely to tell you, “You put up with it for months, so what’s the problem now?” if you let the abuse continue and do nothing.

However, you may want to work with your spouse and your spouse’s lawyer to obtain treatment outside of court for relatively minor abuse so that the entire problem does not become a public record or trigger your spouse to use more or reject treatment altogether.

These are decisions you and your lawyer must make early and often in your case.


3. Know the laws and policies in your court.

You may have heard or read about spouses obtaining drug tests easily, but do not always expect it to be easy in your case.

Although some judges order them upon request (rightly or wrongly), in most states you must prove that the person to be tested has a physical or mental health condition at issue and that the test is needed to settle that issue.

This could be proof by a preponderance of evidence (meaning it is more likely than not) and have photographs and recordings to prove your case, but most often it is proof by clear, convincing evidence (meaning almost certain).

Talk to your divorce lawyer about the kinds of evidence you will need, and how to obtain it legally, and how difficult your judge is to persuade.

Also talk to your lawyer about your judge’s policies if you do make your case – Will you have to pay the costs of the test? Will you also be tested? Will the tests be a part of a public record? How likely is it you or your spouse can challenge the test as inaccurate?

Many guys are surprised to find out that they have to pay for their spouse’s test, and submit to one themselves, only to have the tests come back showing that they also have a substance abuse problem or a mental or physical health problem.


4. Think ahead – what is best for your family?

Don’t let the prospect of short-term success in your case overshadow the long-term effect of substance abuse on your family.

What will your spouse get out of treatment, and what will your parenting time schedule be during and after? What relationship do you want your children to have with your spouse during and after? How will you achieve that relationship? How will you preserve your assets? Will you obtain a guardianship over your spouse so that she does not spend her money on drugs and alcohol? Do you want a relationship with your spouse during and after treatment?

If substance abuse is a problem in your marriage, ask yourself this: Is your marriage truly over, or is this a hurdle your family can overcome?

Divorce may be the quick and easy out, but it may not be the right option for your family. If divorce is the right option, for these reasons, you must handle the problem carefully because your children and your assets depend on it.


Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.

Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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