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Divorce Caused by Alcohol Addiction

Divorce Caused by Alcohol Addiction

In this article we’ll break down some of the legal issues related to divorce and alcoholism, including:

The Impact of Alcohol Addiction on Marriages

The divorce rate among couples with alcoholism is significantly higher than in marriages without addiction issues. Even when the alcoholic partner is willing to seek treatment, the ongoing cycle of addiction, recovery, and relapse creates a toxic environment that makes it difficult to maintain a healthy, stable and safe relationship.

In fact, marriages in which one partner is a heavy drinker have a 50 percent divorce rate compared to non-drinking couples which have a 30 percent divorce rate.

Alcoholism impacts the interpersonal side of marital relationships by creating trust issues, communication breakdown, neglect, conflict, and physical and emotional abuse. These issues are in addition to the legal issues related to the health and safety of family members from domestic abuse and violence as well as monetary concerns caused by the dissipation of marital assets and the need for financial support for children.

Domestic Violence

The sad truth is that the risk of violence is higher in marriages where one or both partners has an alcohol addiction. Often, a restraining order is the first step in a process of addressing domestic violence that ultimately ends with the filing of a petition for a dissolution of marriage.

Note: If you are a victim of domestic violence, we recommend you exercise your rights under Florida Statute 741.29, and contact law enforcement as soon as you feel safe to do so. Under the law, a law enforcement investigator is obligated to advise you of the following:

IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, you may ask the state attorney to file a criminal complaint. You also have the right to go to court and file a petition requesting an injunction for protection from domestic violence which may include, but need not be limited to, provisions which restrain the abuser from further acts of abuse; direct the abuser to leave your household; prevent the abuser from entering your residence, school, business, or place of employment; award you custody of your minor child or children; and direct the abuser to pay support to you and the minor children if the abuser has a legal obligation to do so.

Also Note: The Court will take into account the impact of domestic violence on victims and children when deciding on time-sharing arrangements.

Financial Implications of Alcohol Addiction on a Marriage

Financial issues tend to arise in all divorces. However, these issues can be especially problematic when a relationship is affected by alcohol addiction. Many times, the addicted spouse will have difficulty keeping or finding a job and/or waste or deplete marital assets.

The Dissipation of Assets Caused by Alcohol Abuse

The dissipation of assets, which is the intentional wasting or depletion of resources during a divorce, can have a profound impact on a couple’s financial stability. This can include the depletion of a variety of assets, including savings and checking accounts, education accounts, retirement funds, real estate investments and even the equity of the marital home. During divorce proceedings, the court will consider the dissipation issue when it awards alimony, child support and it’s dividing marital assets (see the case example below).

Temporary Child Support

It is no secret that some people stay with abusive spouses due to financial concerns. Fortunately, this is not necessary.

In cases where domestic violence and alcoholism mix, it is appropriate in many instances for a non-alcoholic spouse to ask the court for temporary child support when seeking a domestic violence injunction.

Generally, the court will order temporary child support at the injunction hearing to alleviate the need for the petitioner to return to court and prevent additional contacts between the parties.

In fact, under Florida statute 741,2902, when a petition for a domestic violence injunction is filed the court is required to “consider temporary child support when the pleadings raise the issue and in the absence of other support orders.” That’s because victims of domestic violence are often in need of child support immediately as they may lose their regular means of support when they file a petition for an injunction.

Case Example of Divorce Caused by Alcohol Addiction

In Guobaitis v. Sherrer – 18 So.3d 28 the husband, a physician, was addicted to alcohol and drugs, which affected his ability to work, as well as his relationship with his wife and child.

The wife, a pharmacist, filed for divorce and sought alimony, child support, and equitable distribution of the marital assets and liabilities. The court granted the divorce and awarded the wife permanent periodic alimony, child support, and most (more than 80 percent) of the marital assets after she argued that her husband’s alcoholism and dissipation of marital assets entitled her to more. The husband appealed the final judgment, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in the equitable distribution and the alimony award.

The appellate court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding alimony and child support but it did in failing to equitably distribute the parties’ marital assets and their federal tax liability. According to the appellate court, the trial court’s decision did not follow the law by failing to state in its judgment that the unequal distribution was based on factors related to the husband’s alcoholism,  drug abuse, and dissipation of the marital assets during the marriage. This is true even though during the trial the wife argued and it was undisputed that the husband abused drugs and alcohol during the marriage and his loss of employment was directly caused by his addictions.

Because the judge did not make a proper finding of facts in the final judgment of divorce for why he granted an unequal distribution, the appellate court remanded the case back to the trial court to make the appropriate findings of fact in its judgment.

Takeaway: A court can order a grossly unequal distribution of marital assets and liabilities in dissolution of marriage where alcoholism, drug abuse, and dissipation of marital assets occurred as long as the court indicates in its judgment a reliance on these factors in making this award.

What Should You Do?

The impact of alcohol use disorder on a marriage can be devastating. For many couples, alcohol addiction is the primary cause of their divorce. Unfortunately, marriages that involve addiction also include domestic violence, as well as financial problems including the dissipation of assets. Using tools such as temporary spousal support and temporary child support can make the situation a bit easier to navigate as you transition from marriage to divorce. Temporary support orders are available to ensure that financial needs are met while a domestic violence case is pending, allows a spouse to leave a dangerous situation, provide support for children, and ensures the abused spouse isn’t re-victimized by having to ask for financial help from their abuser.

A good piece of advice if you are facing these issues is to speak to an experienced divorce lawyer as they can provide the guidance related to all family law issues, including:

  • Asset preservation and the proper allocation of debts and other liabilities during a divorce
  • Establishment and modification of child support orders and the like based on the best interests of the child
  • Establishment and modification of parenting plans and related custody issues
  • File and enforce restraining order and other domestic violence related orders
  • Negotiate relocation agreements
  • Establish paternity
  • Obtain emergency child support

Call Larry Schott Today at 954-880-1302 For a Free Case Evaluation

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