Even though California is a no-fault divorce state, it's doesn't mean there are not any extenuating circumstances in a marriage that can't be considered by the family law court. For example, addiction to drugs or alcohol are certainly factors that could affect child custody, visitation rights, spousal support (alimony), dividing marital assets and even property division. A spouse in a California divorce who is suffering from substance abuse or alcoholism is at a significant disadvantage in the divorce process.
Family law courts are required to make decisions based on the best interest of the child. When one spouse is known to have issues with substance abuse, child custody and visitation orders by the judge will typically be structured to reduce negative consequences to the child.
The judge could even order periodic testing of the spouse to make sure they are in compliance with courts orders to stay clean.
Substance abuse and addiction take a toll not only on the person with the disordered behaviors but everyone in their path as well. It should be noted that drugs include illegal drugs and abuse of prescription medication.
Spouses and children are particularly affected by a person's addictions. If your spouse abuses drugs or alcohol, sometimes the best thing you can do is hire a Los Angeles divorce attorney and get a divorce.
While all divorces are complicated, divorcing someone with a substance abuse problem can be particularly messy. It's important to have excellent representation by your side and know how your spouse's addiction may affect your divorce proceedings.
How Substance Abuse Affects Child Custody
Perhaps the most significant impact that substance abuse has on a divorce case is in child custody decisions. As stated, in California, the courts are required to make these decisions based on what is in the best interest of the child. Although there is a presumption that joint custody is best for the child, substance abuse can change that equation.
Establishing a spouse's substance abuse problem is necessary before a family law court can consider it to make decisions. One spouse could raise the issue, or the court might find out from other sources.
Family members or employees from the California Department of Social Services might inform the court that a spouse has a drug or alcohol addiction.
If you show the court that your spouse has an addiction to alcohol or an illicit substance and that the spouse is not in recovery, the court will consider this a danger to the child. Depending on the exact nature of the person's addiction, the judge has several options for child custody orders. Some examples include:
- No overnight visits with the parent who has an addiction
- Only supervised visits with the offending parent
- Mandated drug or alcohol screenings
- Require the addicted parent to go to seek professional help
- The addicted parent must be sober before and during visitation
Only in extreme circumstances will courts consider stopping all visitation between a parent and a child. If the parent with an addiction harms the child because of substance abuse, the court can consider terminating the person's parental rights.
How Substance Abuse Affects the Division of Assets and Alimony
Generally, family law courts don't consider who is at fault for a divorce when dividing marital assets. However, if one spouse has substance abuse issues, this could determine how much they receive during the divorce.
The sober spouse might be awarded a larger share of the assets if the addicted spouse caused a negative impact on their finances. For example, if the addicted spouse spends a substantial amount of their savings on alcohol or drugs, the sober spouse could get more assets in the form of reimbursement.
Substance abuse does not play as large of a role in financial issues as it does in child custody decisions. Generally, courts want to divide marital assets 50/50 and award alimony when warranted, regardless of fault.
Alimony is typically only affected if the addicted spouse caused a harmful impact on the finances during the marriage.
Similar to asset division, the family court judge could make the decision to award alimony to the sober spouse if the addicted spouse spends significant money on drugs and alcohol while they were married.
In simple terms, the court may decide to give you a larger share of the assets or more spousal support if you can prove that your spouse spent a lot of your money on their addictions.
How Substance Abuse Affects Negotiations
California is strictly a no-fault divorce state. This means that the courts do not assign blame to one party or the other, and either spouse can file for divorce simply because they no longer wish to be married.
Because you do not need to prove fault, your spouse could theoretically get through the divorce without having to answer accusations of substance abuse in court.
The only way to do this is through mediation and negotiation. In these processes, divorcing couples can come to agreements on issues like child custody, asset division, and alimony. These agreements keep couples from hashing out these issues in court.
Since the addicted spouse has an important reason to want to avoid taking the case to trial, they may be particularly eager to settle. If this happens, you may have the upper hand in negotiations, though you still need to be fair.
If you are married to someone with an addiction, you know that people in this situation can be unpredictable. As such, it's important not to count on your spouse wanting to settle. They could be in denial about the addiction, which could make them want to take the issue to court.
The Importance of Collecting Evidence
Without evidence of a substance abuse problem, the court has no reason to make any of these changes to divorce proceedings. Accusations alone are not enough to justify giving a spouse less custody or fewer assets than they would otherwise receive.
As such, collecting evidence of the problem is essential to divorcing someone with a substance abuse problem or criminal record in California. This proof may include statements from social workers, counselors, or law enforcement officials with knowledge of the case. Your attorney can help you collect other evidence that you may need.
Proof also includes paper transactions, pictures of drugs and paraphernalia, text messages and emails, and records of criminal charges.
In some cases, you can ask the court to order a psychological examination of the other parent, which may include screenings for substance abuse problems and other mental illnesses.
Hire an Experienced Los Angeles Divorce Attorney
The well-being of your children are obviously a crucial issue in any California divorce. If your spouse has a substance abuse or addiction issue, you will need an experienced divorce lawyer to fight for the best interest of your children.
If you have not been successful in working out details of the divorce with your addicted spouse, it's helpful to have information how their substance abuse can affect your divorce.
There are many factors that are considered by the judge in a divorce in California. Drug or alcohol abuse is always a serious issue and addiction and divorce are both complicated issues. When combined, they can cause serious problems in a person's life.
You do not have to go through this alone and our law firm can help you. Our divorce lawyers represent clients throughout Southern California, including Los Angeles and Ventura County.
Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law lawyers located in the San Fernando Valley at 15821 Ventura Blvd #690 Encino, CA 91436. Contact our firm for a free case consultation at (818) 528-3471.