Enough. You have reached the point of no return. And the children have seen more than their fair share.
Finally, you or your spouse has broached the subject of divorce.
When children are involved, moving forward with the divorce process requires careful planning and consideration. Whether you hire a lawyer or go it alone, consult with an experienced divorce lawyer before commencing an action for divorce.
However, when alcohol is a factor in a divorce that involves children, bear in mind that you are not simply consulting with a divorce attorney to protect your interests. You are interviewing a professional whose navigation of the legal system is laying the foundation for your new life and your children’s. Make it count.
Getting this transition right is critical, especially for the children.
Of course, you will want answers to routine questions, such as:
- How many contested divorce cases have you personally handled?
- Do I have to pay child support or alimony?
- Can I receive child support or alimony?
- How often do you reach a settlement agreement without going to court?
- What are your thoughts on collaborative divorce?
- What is the divorce process – start to finish?
- What do you know about my spouse’s attorney?
- Are you more comfortable with negotiating or going to trial?
- What experience do you have overseeing financial settlements?
- Will you be the attorney handling my case personally?
- Do you have the time to take on my case?
- Do I get to review and approve settlement offers?
- Based on your experience with these cases, how long will it take to resolve my case?
- What is your retainer fee?
- How will you and I communicate with each other?
However, questions about custody and the costs of divorce take on an entirely different meaning when alcohol abuse is a factor in the case.
Below are essential questions to ask a divorce lawyer if your divorce involves alcohol and children.
Improving Your Chance for Success with Your Divorce Case from the Start
What do I need to be doing to give me the best opportunity to succeed?
“. . . when the client is asking what they need to be doing to give them the best chance of success, that's when a lawyer really gets to have an impression on the client and the long-term success at the end of the issue or the end of the divorce case,” explains Jeff Domen, a decorated Family Trial Lawyer and a partner at the Texas law firm Goranson Bain Ausley, PLLC.
How much experience do you have in Family Law matters where alcohol abuse is an issue?
Cases where one party struggles with alcohol often come with built-in urgencies and complications. So, navigating the contested divorce process when children are involved requires a skilled Family Law Attorney.
Experience is vital in divorce litigation because it can reduce the number of time-consuming and expensive mistakes inexperienced counsel may make.
By the end of your consultation, it should be clear whether the attorney has the experience and resources to hit the ground running at a moment's notice. It should also be transparent whether they have a strong track record of managing the many moving parts typical when alcohol and children are factors in a divorce.
What is your knowledge of or familiarity with the Judges in my venue?
Because they go before the same Family Court Judges so often, experienced divorce lawyers know which way a Judge is likely to lean in cases involving alcohol and children. This knowledge can offer the attorney a competitive edge as they formulate their strategy.
Attorney Jeff Domen strongly believes that it is important for clients to ask an attorney or firm about their knowledge or connection to Judges. He says, “A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the Judge. And I think that's very practical in Family Law because so many of the issues presented to Judges have to do with that Judge's perspective on a parenting issue. And so, when the lawyer knows the Judge and knows the Judge intimately, they can often narrow down exactly what a Judge might say on any given topic that comes in front of them.”
Financial Costs for Divorce
What will primarily affect the cost in this type of divorce case?
The attorney you are consulting with may not be able to give you an exact quote on the total cost of your case. They may, however, be able to tell you the minimum and maximum they have charged for representing similarly situated clients in the recent past.
Whether your case will end up higher or lower within the range will depend on how many complexities and/or contested issues there are in your case.
For example, because there is a history of alcohol misuse, the Judge may order the services of a social worker or call a forensic psychologist for evaluation, observation, and recommendations.
The Judge can also appoint a lawyer for the children or assign a parental coordinator to monitor the parents' handling of matters relating to the children. These directives can drive up the out-of-pocket disbursements and expenses in a divorce case.
Conversely, suppose you and your spouse have already agreed on how to divide the marital assets and debt. In that case, this can reduce the amount of time your attorney will need to spend negotiating with the adversary. As a result, this can reduce the costs you incur.
What are the steps my spouse may take to prolong the divorce or increase the cost of the divorce?
Is your spouse likely to engage in conduct resulting in unnecessary litigation or dig in their heels during negotiation deliberately to increase the divorce costs for you? It can be helpful to bring up this concern to the divorce attorney.
You will want to know what steps the attorney has taken in similar situations to minimize the effectiveness of these strategies.
In the Best Interest of the Children
The Accused Party: If custody becomes an issue in my divorce, what steps can I take to assure the Judge and my spouse that I am sober?
Your divorce lawyer can help you present admissible evidence to prove you are, in fact, sober so that a Judge can make an adequate determination as to custody. For example, attorneys recommend Soberlink remote alcohol monitoring, a court-admissible technology that has been used for custody and alcohol cases in courts across the U.S. to document and prove sobriety. Lawyers know the records will hold up in court, allowing them to present tangible evidence to Judges.
As Jeff Domen believes, “. . . you want to prove to the Judge and to the lawyers and to your soon to be ex-spouse that alcohol isn't an issue anymore. Well, Soberlink is the vehicle to do that. Soberlink can help you assist with peace of mind when the other spouse cares for the children, but it can also be used to prove that you haven't been drinking and that you no longer are under the bondage of alcohol.”
Concerned Party: How can I make sure my children are safe with my spouse, who struggles with alcohol abuse?
Your divorce lawyer will be able to tell you what safeguards are available so that your spouse does not put your children at risk.
As emphasized by Attorney Jeff Domen, " . . . any lawyer that you're considering hiring for your Family Law matter needs to understand the intricacies and the details and how Soberlink can actually help offer peace of mind when you have to release your children into the care of an ex-spouse or soon to be ex-spouse who you have concerns might be drinking alcohol . . . or might be making decisions that aren't in the children's best interest."
Regardless of which party they represent (the Concerned Party or the Accused Party), experienced divorce attorneys around the country support the remote alcohol monitoring technology, Soberlink, which offers a remote breathalyzer that utilizes facial recognition and tamper-detection technology for identity verification.
Soberlink has a unique reporting system that documents and delivers proof of sobriety in real-time while making parenting time safer for the parties’ children – delivering peace of mind for everyone involved.
What child custody, visitation, and parenting plan makes sense for my specific situation, given the alcohol misuse component and all that I have shared with you?
Your attorney will collaborate with you to develop practical custody, visitation, and parenting plan options to bring to the negotiating table.
Suppose it looks like the matter will be taken to court and litigated. In that case, an experienced divorce lawyer can provide insight into how the system works in the venue where your case will be heard, particularly concerning parenting plans in divorce cases where alcohol misuse is a concern. Together you and your counsel will develop an appropriate strategy to address the most pressing issues.
Can I make my spouse move out of the family home?
If you feel your spouse is a threat or danger to you or your children, bring this to the attention of the divorce attorney. They may be able to guide you in getting an order from a Judge forcing your spouse to move out of the family residence.
Even if the matter is not taken to court, the Family Law Attorney should be able to explain your rights and the alternatives available to you.
Will the Judge's ruling around custody change if the Accused Party maintains sobriety after a specified period?
Judges can and do modify custody orders. In most custody proceedings, the Court will award custody based on what is in the child's best interest. Unless there is strong evidence of the threat of danger to a child, Courts believe that both parents should have a meaningful role in the child's life.
Suppose you have evidence (or have reasonable cause to suspect) that your spouse is being dishonest about their abstention from alcohol. In that case, your attorney can request that the Accused Party, who may very well be battling alcohol addiction, provide proof of sobriety with Soberlink.
Family Financial Support
How much can I expect to receive or pay in child support?
Every state has different rules for calculating the amount of child support that a Court will order. Some states factor in the income of both parents. In contrast, other states only factor in the non-custodial parent's income. An experienced divorce attorney will be able to clarify the laws of your state governing child support obligations.
In addition to basic child support, education expenses, and healthcare expenses, keep in mind that a Court may direct the parents to enroll the child in an ongoing therapy or counseling program due to the child’s exposure to alcohol abuse. These fees and costs for other services ordered by a Judge will figure into the overall child support obligation.
Can my (or my spouse’s) alcohol abuse impact spousal support or the division of marital property?
Each state has its own way of determining spousal support awards. The Courts may consider the amount of time you and your spouse were married, the income and assets of both parties, and both parties’ present and future earning capacity.
However, depending on the state, if one spouse has squandered a large portion of the family's money to fund their alcohol addiction and/or accumulated substantial debt because of their dependence on alcohol (or drugs), those actions can affect the division of marital property and the amount of spousal support that a Judge would award.
Disclosing such spending habits to the attorney you plan to hire is important. This information may be critical to an attorney's overall strategy.
The most effective action you can take when a divorce involves alcohol and children is to educate yourself on specific issues that are likely to arise in your case. And one sure-fire way to do that is to come prepared with the right questions to ask during your consultation with an experienced divorce attorney.