Divorce is typically a painful process full of stress, disappointment, and sadness. If one spouse's alcohol consumption is a contributing factor to the deterioration of the marriage, then an additional layer of complexity may affect decisions involving child custody, shared parenting responsibilities, and what is in the best interests of the children.
In divorce cases, it is essential to clarify the difference between "alcoholism" and "alcohol misuse." Alcoholism is a slang term for "Alcohol Use Disorder" (AUD), which is a medical condition characterized by a problematic pattern of alcohol use. Alcoholism or AUD is a disease that affects an individual's brain and behavior, leading to an inability to control their consumption of alcohol, regardless of the negative consequences.
While proving "alcoholism" or AUD in court is not the primary objective, it is crucial to demonstrate alcohol misuse by a spouse. Alcohol misuse refers to a pattern of excessive alcohol consumption that results in harm to the individual, their relationships, or their ability to fulfill responsibilities. It is important to note that not all individuals who misuse alcohol have AUD. In the context of a divorce, it is the alcohol misuse and its impact on the children and family that is of concern to the courts.
Family courts are interested in assessing the extent of a spouse's alcohol misuse and its potential impact on their ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children. Proving alcohol misuse in a divorce case can help the court make informed decisions regarding child custody, shared parenting responsibilities, and the best interests of the children involved.
By focusing on alcohol misuse rather than alcoholism, the court can better address the specific behaviors and risks associated with a spouse's excessive alcohol consumption. This approach allows for a more accurate and fair assessment of the situation, ensuring that the welfare of the children remains the top priority.
Children's Best Interest is Paramount
When the best interests of the divorcing parties' children are at stake, the alleged misuse of alcohol by one of the parties is a highly relevant issue demanding the focus of Family Law Professionals, Family Court Judges, and child advocates. But allegations about an alcoholic's behavior alone carry little weight in the Family Court's custody rulings without credible supporting evidence.
The purpose of the divorce proceeding is to determine the terms of the final divorce decree. That decree must be forward-looking and be sculpted to address the reality of each family's circumstances.
The Family Court Judge's chief legal concern when one party's alcohol use could potentially endanger the children is to ensure the children's safety. When it comes to divorcing an alcoholic, the Court may need to remain involved for an extended period to monitor the alcoholic's compliance for the well-being of the children.
Proving Alcohol Problems in Divorce Court
Proof of any fact in a court of law comes in many forms of evidence. To prove alcohol misuse significant enough to affect a co-parent's fitness for unsupervised parenting time with a child, Courts require more than anecdotal evidence of occasional intoxication. When divorcing an alcoholic, the burden of proof falls squarely on the party seeking custody and the legal protection of their children from the risks posed by their co-parent's alcohol misuse.
Evidence consistent with someone suffering from alcohol misuse can include a history of accidents, difficulties with attendance at work, disruptive behavior in public places, financial problems, arrests, or even episodic violence.
Family Court Judges find allegations convincing when supported by multiple forms of evidence. Documents alone may only confirm isolated events that occurred far in the distant past. Testimony from the opposing party alone can exaggerate the frequency of the alcohol abuse or be motivated by hostility. But a blended evidentiary presentation reinforces the reliability of each piece individually.
Types of Evidence Needed in Child Custody Cases When Divorcing an Alcoholic
To establish a solid case proving that a spouse has a substantial, ongoing alcohol abuse problem, these are some types of evidence Courts will find most compelling.
Testimony from a spouse: While spousal testimony alone can sometimes be distrusted, that concern is dispelled when they support their testimony with other forms of corroborating evidence. No one is better positioned to relate the negative consequences of a partner's alcohol abuse than the spouse with whom they've lived.
Often, only a co-parent is present when excessive alcohol leads the addicted parent to use abusive language, act violently, or damage furniture and household items.
The trauma inflicted on the children who witness alcohol-related conduct can have lifelong effects. Testimony describing what life is like behind closed doors with a person abusing alcohol is powerfully persuasive as part of a blended presentation. Family Courts are keenly aware of the impact alcohol misuse has on children. Whether a party struggling with alcohol misuse gets limited custody of their children or none at all will depend on the Court's belief about their commitment to remaining sober.
Evidence of arrests: Arrest reports help record the detailed events that culminated in a person being taken into police custody. But the arrest report will probably not be admissible to prove the truth of its contents unless a witness to the arrest testifies.
However, many Family Law Attorneys use police reports in pre-hearing negotiations to show the lawyer representing the party who excessively drinks what testimony could be presented if they disagree on safe protocols for shared parenting time. By doing so, both parties can reach a settlement that is in the best interest of the children. It has the added benefit of the case being resolved more quickly and efficiently, saving both parties time and money.
Certified copies of Criminal and Traffic Court proceedings: Official records kept in the ordinary course of business are usually admissible in court even without a live witness. When a party has a history of convictions or another adverse result in an alcohol-related incident, the documents are strong evidence that their alcohol misuse has reached a critical stage.
Child custody decisions are focused on a central priority, the best interest of the child. Courts will not knowingly grant unrestricted child custody to a party with a recent record of dangerous driving. DUI or reckless driving cases not involving an accident or an injury to someone do not reflect a less severe problem.
The fact that an accident did not occur is often a matter of pure chance. Likewise, multiple traffic violations, speeding, or running red lights or stop signs are further evidence that a child would be at risk.
Bank, credit card, and financial records: Charge card bills listing the frequent purchase of alcohol can be highly informative because they don't just show that a purchase occurred; they can also show the volume of alcohol and the frequency of the purchases.
If bills are going unpaid, especially if this coincides with purchases at bars or liquor stores, the Family Courts can infer that the person's alcohol consumption interferes with their ability to cope with daily living activities. This conduct has a strong correlation to alcohol addiction.
Family, friends, and associates' testimony: Testimony offered by several people in the divorcing couple's life is powerful evidence in Family Court. Alcohol misuse is rarely a sudden phenomenon. A person living with an alcohol addiction frequently displays behavior that makes their impairment apparent to others.
Visitors to the couple's home and neighbors who overhear loud outbursts or detect a strong odor of alcohol or slurred speech during conversations with the user are the kind of real-life witnesses that Courts find credible.
Emails, texts, or phone messages: Few forms of evidence are as influential as statements from the alcoholic themselves. Any electronic or phone communications in which the spouse who abuses alcohol expresses confused or irrational messages is further verification that the allegation of alcohol misuse is grounded in fact.
Undoubtedly, the reason for presenting evidence of a co-parent's excessive alcohol consumption is to demonstrate their inability to safely care for their children while in their current state of addiction.
There are instances when it may be appropriate to present such evidence, even if the person has a history of sobriety. The primary objective is to ensure a secure and protected environment for the children in the months and years following the divorce's finalization.
Credible and reliable evidence of a party's excessive alcohol use will persuade a Family Court Judge to restrict their access to the couple's children unless their sobriety can be assured. Now that the Courts have Soberlink remote alcohol testing devices to obtain real-time sobriety monitoring, Family Court Judges have more options to secure a child's safety when they are in the presence of a parent struggling with alcohol misuse.
Family Court Solutions
First, in the most acute cases, Courts can order a parent to participate in treatment programs designed to help reduce and eliminate the use of alcohol in their life. If the program is out-patient, the Court can order the litigant to use a Soberlink alcohol testing device on a routine schedule.
Throughout this initial recovery period from alcohol abuse, the party may be restricted from enjoying any overnight or unsupervised parenting time with their child. The Soberlink monitoring device is not intended to be punitive. On the contrary, the device is supportive. Moreover, its reliable detection of alcohol is not susceptible to being tampered with.
Unlike other methods of alcohol testing, Soberlink uses facial recognition and artificial intelligence technology for Advanced Reporting.
More outdated methods of alcohol testing, like randomly ordered spot urinalysis, invite several strategies to defeat the accuracy of the test—some test subjects attempt flushing to dilute their urine and reduce the presence of alcohol.
Monitoring Alcohol Use in Child Custody Disputes
Will one of the parties be required to demonstrate sobriety to engage in co-parenting time with their children? How will their abstinence from alcohol be monitored? The alcohol monitoring technology developed by Soberlink is relied upon by Family Courts nationwide to provide court-admissible reporting of a parent's sobriety.
Typical challenges that arise in cases of divorce involving an alcoholic include the individual's denial of their alcohol addiction despite their love for their children. Since the Court's child custody decisions are contingent on the parent's abstention from alcohol, this creates a difficult situation where the parent must prioritize either their children or their continued consumption of alcohol. Soberlink is a tool that can help parents manage their alcohol abuse, while continuing to foster relationships with their children.
Remote Alcohol Monitoring Devices
Soberlink's portable alcohol monitoring devices are convenient and easy-to-use. Family Court Judges will order the use of a remote alcohol testing device when evidence indicates it is an appropriate measure to monitor a party's sobriety when the welfare of the children might be affected.
Alcohol Monitoring with Soberlink is Not Punitive
Soberlink is never used for unscheduled or random testing. The developers' philosophy and the technology's utility emphasize that an easy-to-use, remote alcohol testing device can assure one parent and the Court that the alcohol-challenged litigant is free of alcohol when interacting with the couple's children.
Divorce lawyers and social workers have also encouraged the use of Soberlink Devices by clients who want to disprove a false allegation of alcohol abuse. By regularly testing daily, the uninterrupted string of negative test results is indisputable evidence that accusations of excessive alcohol are untrue.
Alcohol Monitoring Increases Options
Using these remote alcohol monitoring devices has filled a gap that plagued the Family Court for generations. Before the availability of this technology, Family Court Judges who questioned the sobriety of a litigant could only bar the person from contact or order unsupervised visits with their children. That reality did a disservice to the compliant parent and the children who were denied access to the love and guidance the absent parent could provide.
Gladly, that dilemma no longer exists in the nation's courts, where so many families are trying to rebuild trust in relationships they value.