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Addiction can alter or even destroy relationships, so it’s no surprise that it can sometimes be a factor in a couples’ divorce as well.  It can cause trust issues, financial problems, and concerns about raising children.  Dependency can take the person with whom you fell in love and completely transform them into your worst nightmare.  It can aggravate other issues a couple might be having, and can be just as detrimental to a divorce as an extramarital affair.  When confronting substance abuse and divorce, the choice to leave an addict can be even more difficult and scary than a divorce where substance issues are not present.

Here are a few things you should understand if you’re facing a divorce that involves substance abuse:

Skewed Perspective:
It’s important to remember that someone who is dealing with addiction may not have an accurate sense of reality.  He or she may not realize just how much damage their dependency is causing.  They often try to justify their behaviour or claim that the sober spouse is lying.  They may even blame you for their problem.  Be prepared for such an eventuality from the outset.

Inform Your Lawyer:
It can be scary to live in a home with someone who has an addiction.  Your first inclination may be to move yourself and your children out or act in other ways that initiate the separation process, but before you do anything (unless physical harm has been threatened or committed), consult with your lawyer first.  Anything you do or say may be thoroughly examined in court later on, and you need to protect yourself. Also, your lawyer can’t help you if he or she isn’t fully informed, so be completely honest during your consultation and throughout.

What About the Children?:
Substance abuse is an even more significant issue in divorce cases that involve children.  If you’re concerned that your spouse may be abusing drugs or alcohol, you can request supervised visitations.  Keep in mind, though, you’ll have to prove your spouse’s dependency in order for this to be awarded.  This may involve pictures, videos, evidence of arrests or hospitalizations, and testimonials.  A so-called “functioning alcoholic” may be difficult to prove if he or she is still keeping a job and providing for the family.

Overall, substance abuse can be a big factor in a divorce case.  Being the sober spouse may give you the upper hand in a settlement, but it’s important to remember that substance abuse is a serious issue.  Presenting evidence in court of substance abuse is a process that must be treated carefully and honestly since it can damage your spouse’s reputation and even their career. This is important to consider if any support payments are being sought in the divorce. In some cases, it may also even lead to criminal charges.  As a result, it’s best to consult with your lawyer and make sure you know all the facts before diving in.

If you or someone you care about is facing a drug or alcohol problem, please visit the Ontario Governments’ Drug and Alcohol Helpline.

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