The number of issues that can potentially end a marriage are wide and vast, but one issue is particularly known to wreak havoc on all relationships – drug and alcohol abuse. Individuals caught in the cycle of addiction can pose a safety risk to the other spouse and their children, as well as jeopardize finances. Getting out of these marriages and seeking divorce is rarely easy, but unfortunately, often necessary. While these issues are certainly private matters that one tends to keep quiet, the presence of substance abuse does have a real impact on the outcome of a divorce, especially if children are involved. Breaking off all communication and relations with individuals with substance abuse problems is ideal, but not always possible or practical. One of President Trump’s advisors, Steve Bannon, has an ex-wife with alcohol and drug issues, and despite her problems he has continued to provide financial and emotional support as she struggles to recover. This news report illustrates that addiction issues reach into all spheres of power and wealth, and needs to be understood in the context of divorce.
Marital property is divided in divorce based on the concept of equitable distribution. Equitable distribution, under Florida law, starts from the premise that all marital property should be distributed equally. However, a court will deviate from that standard, if there is justification, in order to arrive at an arrangement that is most fair based on circumstances of the parties. One factor that can persuade a court to award an unequal division of assets is if one spouse intentionally wasted marital property. Drug and alcohol abusers will invariably spend more than they can afford to feed their addiction, which results in the taking of financial resources away from the rest of the family. A court will specifically look at a spouse’s use of marital property in the two years preceding the filing of the divorce petition and while the divorce case is pending. If there is evidence of a spouse deliberately using money and property to acquire drugs or alcohol, the judge is likely to give the other spouse a greater share of the remaining assets.
Substance abuse has an even bigger impact on child custody decisions. The law in Florida gives a preference to shared parental responsibility, but the arrangement must first and foremost be in the best interests of the child. Specifically, if the court finds evidence that a shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child, the judge has discretion to award the other parent sole custody. Alternatively, the court could limit the frequency and type of visitation the parent with substance abuse problems has, such as by ordering supervised visitation. The court must analyze a long list of factors to decide what is in the child’s best interests, and evidence of substance abuse would certainly get the court’s attention. Basically, a judge is looking for any pattern of behavior that could pose a harm to the child’s mental and physical health, and potential exposure to drug use and/or a parent that would put getting drugs or alcohol before the child’s needs is problematic.
One final point worth noting is that, unlike criminal trials, a judge in a civil case can take a party’s silence as guilt. This point is important in substance abuse cases since these individuals have a tendency to deny the existence of or responsibility for the problem. Thus, if a spouse accuses the other of a cocaine habit, and the accused party refuses to confirm or deny or submit drug testing results, the judge can take this behavior as affirmation of the party’s drug problem.
Contact a Divorce Lawyer
Navigating divorce with a spouse who is addicted to alcohol or drugs is bound to present challenges. Having an experienced divorce attorney on your side, like those at Tampa Bay’s All Family Law Group, P.A., will alleviate some of the stress associated with this process. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+