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How do I get a divorce from a Spouse with Substance Abuse Problems?

In Alabama, a person may claim their spouse’s substance abuse addiction as grounds for a fault divorce. In order for the addiction to qualify, the spouse must have become addicted to drugs or alcohol during the marriage. Typically, the court focuses on the intensity of the addiction and the damage it caused. It does not focus on whether the person was aware of the addiction before the marriage. The person who wants a divorce should file a petition for divorce with the clerk of court in the circuit court where the parties reside. Divorce and Substance Abuse

The answers to the questions: “How do I get a divorce from a spouse who is not always functional?” and “How do I form agreements with a person whose lifestyle and mental state are unpredictable?” are complex. The spouse filing for divorce usually knows the addict’s patterns and periods of sobriety and/or lucidity. They should work closely with their attorney and a mental health professional to guide them through the next steps. It is likely that the person without the addiction will need to file for a contested divorce as opposed to an online divorce in Alabama

Uncontested or Contested Divorce?

An uncontested divorce in Madison County, or wherever you are filing, is one in which the spouses agree to the terms of the divorce. The spouses do not need a judge or jury to decide who gets what property. Spouses who want an uncontested divorce must make a full financial disclosure to one another. This means stating their debts and assets. 

The spouses then draft and sign a marital settlement agreement (MSA), which they present to the judge. The judge issues the terms of the MSA as an order. Typically, the spouses also form a similar agreement as to custody of minor children and child support. The spouses cannot go below the minimum amounts of the child support guidelines. These are set by state law and our Huntsville divorce lawyer can help explain this process and the formula to you when you call. 

A contested divorce is one in which the spouses have not settled issues as to property division, child custody, and child support. The spouses do not draft and sign agreements before coming to court. The judge or jury makes decisions as to what each spouse will be awarded. 

An uncontested divorce is usually cheaper, easier, and faster to get than a contested divorce. It is a great way to get a cheap divorce in Shelby County or wherever you live but can be difficult to obtain when your spouse is an addict. For example, a spouse with an addiction will have difficulty stating their assets and debts, drafting and signing a MSA, and forming agreements regarding children. Not to mention trying to get them to do things like go to a notary public and other things that they might forget or put off in favor of taking the substances they are abusing which can make it difficult to do much of anything.

The spouse without the addiction may need to hire a forensic accountant to find all of the addict’s assets and debts. Also, the parent without an addiction should not agree to any type of shared custody arrangement with an addict who has not begun recovery. They may consider visitation for the addict if the addict can come to the visitation center sober and in a presentable manner. 

Issues in Child Custody and Child Mental Health

The parent without the addiction should ask for sole physical and legal custody of the children until the other parent has made substantial steps in their recovery. These steps include:

  • several months of regular attendance and/or completion of an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment program
  • substantial or full completion with the sentence for a DUI or similar criminal offense related to substance abuse 
  • regularly attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics Anonymous meetings for several months
  • getting an AA and/or NA sponsor
  • avoiding drug and alcohol use around children. This includes any children, not only the addict’s children. 
  • not having drugs and alcohol in the house, even in locked areas inaccessible to children
  • acknowledging, admitting, and apologizing for past mistakes, such as the parent’s absence at the child’s sports event because of substance abuse and
  • avoidance of abnormal behavior to “make up for” mistakes, like buying a child gifts in place of the parent being there.

The parent without an addiction should talk to a mental health professional about the warning signs of relapse. They should also cover the potential issues involved with trying to co-parent with a spouse with an addiction. Each minor child should be seeing a mental health professional. The mental health professional seeing a child should cover:

  • what substance abuse is
  • the signs of substance abuse
  • how to call for help in case the addict needs medical care
  • how the parent’s addiction is not the child’s fault 
  • how the child feels about their parent’s addiction and
  • what the child can do to avoid substance abuse themselves now and in the future. 

Getting a divorce from a person with an addiction is challenging. It may take years. Yet it is worth it. It allows the person without the addiction to stop being a crutch for the addict. It teaches children to value independence and sobriety.

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