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Divorcing an Addict

Divorcing an AddictMaybe it starts on a smaller level. A wife may notice her husband has had too much to drink at a party, and she makes excuses for her husband’s erratic behavior. The next week, the same situation repeats itself. Within six months, the wife becomes accustomed to seeing her husband in a drunken state more often than not. In an unsurprising turn of events, the couple begins to have several fights surrounding his drinking.

This is just a glimpse into a marriage where one partner is in the throes of addiction. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, addiction is defined as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity.” People can become addicted to anything, from alcohol and drugs to sex, gambling, and food. When a spouse suffers through an addiction, it can take a serious toll on a marriage.

What often starts out as a small, hidden activity by a spouse leads into secrecy, emotional manipulation and damage that affects a spouse’s entire family. There is no possibility of an addiction being a harmless habit; addiction will affect every aspect of a spouse’s life, from work to the relationship with their spouse and children.

What are some of the actions of an addicted spouse?

It depends on the addiction, but the overall effect is the same: the longer a person has been addicted, the greater the effect it will have on the brain. Some of the effects of addiction are difficulties with concentration, a lack of interest in enjoyable activities, and an unstable mood. Excessive alcohol and drug abuse, for example, can also cause a married couple to experience emotional strain. A gambling addiction can lead to significant financial difficulties. The list goes on and on.

In some cases, your spouse’s addiction may trigger a codependent nature within them. Codependency is a learned behavior where a spouse depends mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually on a partner, friend, or family member. Spouses married to addicts may find themselves being manipulated by their partners.

Their partners may make empty promises of changing their behavior or insinuate that they cannot overcome their addiction without the additional emotional and financial support from their spouse. Sadly, because one spouses wants to believe that his or her partner is telling the truth, he or she may ignore or dismiss these behaviors, which can cause irreparable harm to the family. Children are at risk of trauma that can last a lifetime, and may require counseling or therapy later to help them break out of these learned behaviors.

What are the signs that your spouse is codependent?

Some of the characteristics of a codependent spouse are a spouse that is quick to anger, struggles with adjusting to change, and has low self-esteem. Spouses who suffer from codependency also have a lack of trust in other people outside of their marriage, have a tendency to do more than their share in a relationship, have issues setting boundaries, fear being abandoned or alone, suffer from poor communication, and have a compelling need to exert control on others. Codependency is an issue that can occur at any stage in a spouse’s addiction.

Why divorcing a spouse with addiction is so hard

Even when one partner recognizes and acknowledges the effect of his or her spouse’s addiction on the family, the decision to divorce is still a difficult one. For many couples, the promise of “for better or worse” means something, and divorce may feel like a failure to live up to that promise. Some spouses may feel their children are better off in a home with two parents, even if (or when) one parent is unfit. Some people may be frightened to live alone or to raise their children on their own; others may be financially insecure, and fear they will end up with nothing in the event of a divorce.

But for many couples, the real challenge is love. They still love their partners. They remember what their husbands or wives were like “before,” and they are desperately seeking some method of returning to that time.

In the end, though, no person can force another person to do anything, even when that “anything” is seeking help for an addiction. This can make a divorce a painful experience, even when it is clearly the best option.

Steps you can take when divorcing an addict

One of the first steps that a spouse whose partner is addicted should take during the divorce process is to reach out to a divorce attorney. Not only do you need to know your legal rights, but you should have someone who is looking out for your best interests. For example, a divorce attorney can help you with planning a safe exit strategy for you and your children if concerned about your spouse’s reaction or fear for your safety.

A divorce attorney can also assist you with collecting crucial evidence that proves how the spouse’s addiction has affected the marriage. We can collect and review bank statements and evidence of credit card debt, and help you run a credit check to see if there are open lines of credit you were unaware existed. Our team also has a network of financial experts and counselors who can help you make a plan for moving forward.

Can addiction affect child custody?

Another area of difficulty during the divorce process will be determining the child custody arrangements if the married couple has any children. Your spouse’s addiction will absolutely be taken into account when it comes to custody, especially if:

  • The addiction has cost your spouse his or her job, or made him or her unable to secure work.
  • The addiction has left you with significant debts, or could lead to the loss of your family home or vehicle.
  • The addiction causes your spouse to act out violently or abusively.

Additional factors that the courts will take into consideration are the severity of the addiction, how the addiction affects the partner’s ability to parent, the partner’s criminal history, and the steps that the partner has taken to overcome their addiction.

At Epperson Law Group, PLLC, our Charlotte divorce lawyers are dedicated to making the divorce process a less stressful experience. Our decades of experience give you the edge when you need it. We’re here to fight when you need it most. To reserve a consultation at one of our offices in Charlotte, Weddington, Concord, and Boone, please call 704-321-0031 or complete our contact form.