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What happens in a divorce when one parent is an alcoholic?

By | - October 15, 2019

Steve Benmor is a recognized divorce lawyer, family mediator, arbitrator, speaker, writer and educator. Mr. Benmor has worked as lead counsel in many divorce trials, held many leadership positions in the legal community and has been regularly interviewed on television, radio and in newspapers as an expert in Family Law.

There are many different reasons why people separate. One of the top reasons is alcoholism. In a divorce when one parent is an alcoholic or a spouse is suffering from alcoholism, also known as Alcohol Use Disorder, the family is in a state of disfunction and chaos. Alcoholism is a chronic and relapsing disease that affects everyone in the family. It is a contributing factor in domestic violence and abuse, both physical and psychological. Alcohol and substance use are among the most common reasons for divorce.

Addiction to alcohol has many implications.

Firstly, it is common for the alcoholic to also suffer from other psychosocial issues that may be contributing to the alcoholism. In many of these cases, the driver of alcoholism has never been properly treated. 

Secondly, there exists significant distrust and betrayal in a marriage to an alcoholic.  

As one alcoholic said: 

How do you know when an alcoholic is lying? 

Answer: When his lips are moving. 

Alcoholics tend to be chronic liars, mainly to hide the addiction from their spouse and family. This of course creates significant distrust and betrayal. 

Thirdly, alcoholism profoundly damages the health of the alcoholic. Liver disease stemming from alcoholism causes death. Alarmingly, an average of 6 people die each day in the US due to alcohol poisoning.  That is because the body becomes overwhelmed and the critical areas of the brain that control functions such as breathing and heart rate begin to shut down, leading to death.

Fourthly, the excessive use of alcohol can lead to domestic violence and other criminal activity such as drunk driving.  This in turn causes a loss of employment and financial hardship, further stressors in the marriage.   

For all these reasons, when a spouse is living with an alcoholic, before divorce is even considered, the family and friends of the alcoholic must come together to develop a plan of treatment for the alcoholic. A family intervention can involve family and friends confronting the loved one to seek professional help.  It is only if and when the alcoholic refuses to receive help and accept treatment that divorce may be a consideration.

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