The Role of Substance Abuse in Divorce

Attorneys Helping Milwaukee Residents Navigate a Marriage Dissolution

Divorce can arise for many different reasons. Spouses may find that they no longer have the same interests, they may want to live in different places, or they have fallen out of love. In many cases, a divorce can be a thoughtful and respectful process of two partners acknowledging their differences. However, a divorce can also result from the more difficult realization that a loved one has a drug or alcohol problem that you are not able to fix for them. When a divorce centers around substance abuse, important considerations come into play when dealing with issues like property division, spousal maintenance, and child custody. Spouses may need to be wary of not only the emotional complexities of the divorce but also threats to their own physical safety and the safety of their children. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our Milwaukee divorce attorneys can help you navigate the unique challenges that substance abuse creates.

The Effect of Substance Abuse on a Divorce

Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state, which means that a party seeking a divorce does not need to prove that the other spouse did something bad to justify it. Instead, the parties must just show an “irreparable breakdown” in the marriage. This means that while substance abuse may contribute to this breakdown, it does not need to be definitively proven in order for a divorce to be granted.

Where substance abuse often plays a significant role is in the determination of child custody issues. When considering where to place a child after a divorce, a court must always consider what is in the best interest of the child. While substance abuse does not inherently mean that a parent is more dangerous for a child, it can lead to many issues that may justify limiting custody. For example, substance abuse can cause a parent to be unpredictable and physically violent, leading to child abuse or domestic violence. Substance abuse can also lead to mental health issues that make a parent unreliable as a guardian or cause a parent to make decisions that are not in the best interest of a child.

In the most extreme of circumstances, substance abuse can lead to serious problems like abandonment or neglect, which ultimately justify the complete termination of parental rights for the parent with substance issues. This is certainly a more extreme outcome, but it can happen.

Substance Abuse, Property Division, and Support

Substance abuse can also play a role in the division of marital assets or support after a marriage, due to the concept of marital waste. Marital waste occurs in Wisconsin when a spouse wastes assets worth $500 or more that would otherwise be part of the marital estate to be divided between the spouses. One common source of marital waste is when assets are sold to fund a drug or alcohol habit. When marital waste is a problem, a court may use this as a justification for deviating from the normal equal division of marital property after a divorce.

When it comes to spousal maintenance after a divorce, Wisconsin courts are divided as to whether addiction should be considered as a factor in granting a spouse more limited support. Some courts have held that a spouse should not be required to provide support to a former partner who cannot hold down a job due to addiction, and maintenance can therefore be limited. Other courts have held that addiction must be acknowledged as a disease, and support should be provided to help a spouse with a substance abuse problem deal with this disease.

Contact a Sensitive Divorce Lawyer in the Milwaukee Area

Substance abuse in a marriage is never easy, and it can often lead to the breakup of a family or a divorce. This can be difficult for the spouse with the substance issue and for family members who are struggling to cope with their loved one’s addiction. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our Milwaukee attorneys understand that substance abuse is a common occurrence and frequently work with divorcing spouses to address these challenging issues in child custody, property division, and spousal maintenance agreements. Contact our office online or at (414) 271-6400 to discuss your situation with an attorney. We also represent people in Mequon, Racine, West Bend, Waukesha, and other communities in Racine, Washington, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, and Waukesha Counties.