Divorcing an Alcoholic in Norwood – All You Need To Know

Navigating the complexities of divorcing an alcoholic is a challenging prospect faced by many individuals. Whether your spouse is a functioning alcoholic or severely compromised by their addiction, one crucial aspect of this sensitive issue involves how it can affect child custody.

Walking into a courtroom and stating that the other party is an alcoholic isn’t an effective strategy. While judges focus intently on the safety of children of divorcing parents, a more strategic approach is warranted. Therefore, the importance of discussing these matters with a Norwood divorce attorney cannot be exaggerated.

Seeking legal advice before making allegations in court regarding alcohol use is crucial for numerous reasons. One of those reasons is to educate you so the information you gather in support of your case is the kind that will increase the likelihood of a judge considering a parent’s alcohol use when crafting a custody and parenting plan. More importantly, a divorce lawyer will be able to provide advice about how to manage the safety of the children while balancing the strain an allegation of alcohol abuse can have on a divorce.

Ultimately, understanding the court’s role in considering alcoholism in custody matters and presenting a compelling case will optimize your chances of having the issue thoughtfully reviewed and included in the judge’s final order. If you are divorcing an alcoholic, this is what you need to know.

Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce in Norwood, MA

Norwood divorces are either contested or uncontested. If you are raising the issue of your spouse’s alcohol use and how it will pertain to specific matters, such as property division, alimony, and child custody, your divorce is contested.

However, it is valuable to understand both types of Massachusetts divorces since a contested divorce can become uncontested during the divorce process should spouses reach an agreement. The process for each follows.

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce describes when both parties agree on all issues from the start. Still, mediation can be a practical tool in uncontested divorces, offering a neutral third party’s input. Each party may hire an experienced attorney to represent their interests and make recommendations.

Having your divorce attorney present during mediation means someone is there looking out specifically for your best interests. If you and your spouse reach an agreement on all of your outstanding issues, your divorce will become uncontested.

Contested Divorce

In a contested divorce, one party files a complaint, and the other party is served a copy of the complaint and a summons. This action is the official beginning of the divorce process.

If pressing matters that require immediate judicial intervention exist, either party can file a motion for temporary orders. During the hearing for temporary orders, issues such as child custody, parenting time, support, and who will be responsible for paying what bills, among other matters, will be addressed. The resulting order remains in effect until modified or integrated into a final judgment.

After the initial filing, the next step in a divorce process is usually a pretrial conference hearing. During this stage, the judge encourages attorneys and parties to continue working on resolving the case. If issues persist, the judge may intervene to guide the parties. The case will usually proceed to a status hearing if the parties and attorneys believe the issues can be resolved. If not, the case is scheduled for trial if the issues remain unresolved.

Alcohol Use as Grounds for Divorce in Norwood, MA

One of the grounds for a Norwood divorce is the “confirmed habits of intoxication caused by voluntary and excessive use of intoxicating liquor.” This language means that the mere consumption of alcohol or drugs by a married individual does not automatically provide grounds for divorce.

Establishing grounds for divorce based on intoxication under this statute requires demonstrating that the use is both voluntary and excessive. Confirming the voluntary nature of the defendant’s alcohol consumption is usually straightforward.

However, determining what constitutes “excessive” involves a subjective interpretation. Even if alcohol use occurs intermittently, it may still be deemed “excessive” if it is a habitual pattern.

Even if your Norwood divorce lawyer determines that it makes sense strategically to file on these grounds, it’s usually advisable to also file on grounds of irreconcilable differences. If the court finds the burden isn’t met on the fault-based grounds, it’s important to have irreconcilable differences to fall back on to ensure the divorce goes through.

Property Division and Alimony

The granting of a divorce based on one party’s significant issues with alcohol does not automatically impact the financial awards of the other party in terms of alimony or property division. The party alleging alcohol abuse needs to prove a clear impact on the finances and quantify the amount, which can be difficult.

Courts may also consider spousal abuse when determining alimony.

Abuse

In Massachusetts, obtaining a divorce based on “cruel and abusive treatment” is among the initial grounds recognized for the dissolution of marriage. In the context of divorce, the definition of “abuse” refers to the commission of one or more of the following acts within the context of family or household relationships: attempting to or causing physical harm, instilling fear of imminent serious physical harm, and compelling another person to engage involuntarily in sexual relations through the use of force, threat, or duress.

While a single incident of cruel and abusive treatment is sufficient grounds for divorce, such cases are few and far between. Most case law addressing cruel and abusive treatment typically involves patterns of repeated incidents rather than isolated occurrences.

Protective measures are available for individuals experiencing abuse from a family or household member. The complainant can request various orders from the court, including refraining orders (i.e., order to refrain from abuse or having contact), vacating the residence, temporary custody of a minor child, and financial support.

If the court finds a pattern or serious incident of abuse, it may issue orders to ensure the safety and well-being of the child during visitation. The court can, for example, demand an investigation, order the abusive party to refrain from contacting the plaintiff’s child, and recommend a certified batterer’s intervention program. Relief granted is temporary, with orders specifying the expiration date and conditions for extension. The court can modify orders and issue mutual restraining orders based on specific findings.

If there’s a prior custody or support order, the court can issue related orders but should inform the probate and family court. Subsequent orders arising from divorce or family court proceedings may supersede orders issued under the above section.

Child Custody

Research shows there is a connection between alcohol use and child abuse. According to statistics provided by Prevent Child Abuse America, in cases of confirmed child maltreatment, 40% are linked to the use of alcohol or other drugs.

When a parent is engaged in substance abuse, a court may order an assessment of their capacity to ensure the child’s safety and parent effectively. If there are allegations of substance abuse, the judge may mandate drug testing. Depending on the level of risk to the children posed by these issues, the judge may also implement supervised parenting time.

Evidence of past or present abuse toward a parent or child is a factor Massachusetts courts will use in determining what is in the best interest of the child. As stated earlier, “abuse” is defined as causing bodily injury or instilling reasonable fear of imminent bodily injury. A “serious incident of abuse” includes attempts or acts causing serious bodily injury, instilling fear of imminent serious bodily injury, or forcing involuntary sexual relations.

A court finding, by a preponderance of the evidence, a pattern or serious incident of abuse creates a rebuttable presumption against placing the child in sole or shared custody with the abusive parent. This presumption can be rebutted by evidence supporting the child’s best interests. The term “abusive parent” refers to one who committed a pattern or serious incident of abuse.

Orders under Massachusetts Chapter 209A (Abuse Prevention) don’t automatically constitute abuse patterns. If the court finds abuse and issues custody orders, it must provide written findings within 90 days, demonstrating the order’s alignment with the child’s best interests and safety.

For visitation to the abusive parent, the court promotes the child’s and the abused parent’s safety by considering various measures, including supervised visitation, the parent’s attendance in a certified batterer’s treatment program, and restrictions on their alcohol or substance consumption.

The court has the discretion to impose additional conditions for the safety and well-being of the child and the abused parent. However, that doesn’t affect the parties’ right to a hearing with the probate and family court.

Dealing With an Alcoholic Co-Parent After the Norwood Divorce Is Final

In the event you are dealing with an alcoholic ex-partner and wondering about your custody options and currently have a parenting plan that has been in place for a significant period, you will likely have to show some negative impact on the children if you hope to convince a judge to make a change.

Should you suspect substance abuse is affecting your child’s safety and well-being, gather evidence and keep a log of any negative impact on the children. Next, run it by an experienced and trusted family attorney so that the attorney can help you determine whether a change is possible.

While moderate drinking usually doesn’t necessarily interfere with parenting, habitual, or excessive alcohol or drug use poses a danger to children. If you provide compelling evidence that a parent is abusing alcohol or substances, a judge will likely evaluate parenting arrangements accordingly. In the interim, a judge may put in place measures for the children to remain protected from harm.

Find a Norwood divorce lawyer for divorcing an alcoholic

Divorcing an alcoholic in Norwood can be an emotionally grueling experience. Given how Massachusetts law on the issue is subject to interpretation, having a family law firm on your side with a team experienced in helping clients work through these issues is critical.

At Farias Family Law, our compassionate Massachusetts divorce attorneys understand all that is at stake when divorcing an alcoholic and can help you with your individual circumstances. Contact our Norwood office today.

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