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Addiction And Divorce

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I have been practicing family law for over 40 years, and I have seen just about everything. I've witnessed numerous divorces in which spouses have had addiction issues -- including alcohol, drugs, pornography and gambling -- that led to the divorce. Throughout the course of my career, I have represented both the addicted person and the spouse of the addict -- the addiction in these cases was to alcohol or prescription drugs. These addictions wreaked havoc on the marriage and led to the divorce.

In two of these cases, I was representing the wives who were the ones with the problems. In each case, they lost custody of their children and were given some severe restrictions including treatment for alcohol and/or drug abuse, regular testing and counseling.

Recently, I bumped into one of my clients who told me that she had been clean and sober for over 18 months. At the time of the divorce, she was not allowed to drive with her children and had very limited contact with her youngest child. Now, things had turned around to the point that she was sharing custody of her youngest child. Dealing with alcohol or drugs takes hard work, but this was a case where my client hit bottom, sought help, and has turned her life around.

I'm currently involved in two cases where alcohol addiction has played a major role in the divorce. In the first case, I am representing the wife who is an alcoholic. Custody is not an issue because the son is about to turn 18. She is dealing with years of inpatient and outpatient treatment and she's in denial. She is trying her best to stay clean and sober but she has relapsed on occasion.

In the second case, I am representing a woman and her husband is an alcoholic. It has become so severe that he has passed out in the garage, passed out in their home and even has had episodes where he will black out and not remember where he has been for hours at a time. He has been getting treatment. The question is whether or not it will be successful.

I believe that in many marriages where one spouse is the addict, the other spouse becomes the enabler. This can become a major part of the problem. I have seen situations where the addict spouses will be seeking help, trying to change the behavior, and the marriage will start falling apart because of the personality changes that result or the fact that things are no longer in balance. It is critical in all these cases that there be intervention and counseling. Even if the marriage cannot be salvaged, treatment and counseling is critical so that there can be life after alcohol or drugs.

In our society, every television commercial, movie, and magazine ad is filled with alcohol and sex. There is a lot of emphasis on the glamour of drinking, suggesting that if you have the right drink, you will end up the right man or woman -- but what about the aftermath? What about the human tragedy that addiction leads to? What about where it not only leads to divorce, but can result in a serious accident, injury or death?

In my many years of practicing, I have seen a lot of problems involving addiction in divorce. There are clearly no winners. Unless someone receives help, not only is the marriage beyond repair but so are lives. The first step is admitting that you have a problem, and the next step is dealing with it. I have seen too many people in denial with tragic consequences. What are your thoughts?