The Impact of Substance Abuse on Divorce

In Child Custody, Separation & Divorce by Elizabeth Stephenson

Substance abuse by a spouse can destroy a marriage. For starters, a spouse who abuses alcohol or drugs can be unreliable, can destroy a couple’s finances by wasting money on their substance of choice, and will certainly make poor decisions. This is because substance abusers will always put their drugs or alcohol first.

People who are addicted to substances also lie to protect themselves and their addiction, which completely erodes the trust vital to a healthy relationship. Significantly, a person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol has impaired judgment. There is a correlation between substance abuse and neglectful parenting, driving under the influence, domestic violence, and child abuse. While spouses who abuse substances deserve empathy an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves, every person has their limits, especially when there is domestic violence or child abuse involved.

A Divorce From Bed and Board

North Carolina is generally an absolute divorce state, meaning that divorce is based on the length of separation, and not on the fault of the spouses. However, during that year period, important decisions must be made regarding the couple’s children, living situation, and finances. In many situations, spouses can enter into separation agreements that delineate which spouse gets to remain in the family home, how property will be divided, and dictate the terms of child custody, spousal support, and child support payments. Unfortunately, spouses who are addicted to substances are not always cooperative with the other spouse’s plan to divorce.

The law therefore allows a spouse to file for a “divorce from bed and board”. Importantly, this is not an actual divorce, but a court-ordered separation. When an addicted spouse has made life intolerable and refuses to separate, an injured spouse may file for a court-ordered separation. Specifically, the General Statutes state that:

“The court may grant divorces from bed and board on application of the party injured, made as by law provided, in the following cases if either party” “[b]ecomes an excessive user of alcohol or drugs so as to render the condition of the other spouse intolerable and the life of that spouse burdensome.”

Significantly, a divorce from bed and board quickly relieves an injured spouse from having to live with the addicted spouse who has created a burdensome and intolerable life. The court can accomplish this by an order that forces the addicted spouse out of the family home and allows the injured spouse to live there. In addition, the court can enter orders protecting marital property and can grant orders regarding child custody, child support, and alimony.

Beyond a court-ordered separation, a spouse’s substance abuse can be a significant consideration for family courts when they are later asked to make equitable property divisions, alimony orders, child custody decisions, and child support obligations.

Contact New Direction Family Law

If you wish to separate from a spouse who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, contact New Direction Family Law. We are a family law firm that represents clients experiencing separations, divorces, child custody, and property division disputes. We take substance abuse very seriously and understand the burden this can place on a marriage. Let us help you. Call New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation, or contact us online at our website.