Alcoholism in Divorce and Custody Cases

Posted on Apr 19, 2017 by Katie Carter

Alcoholism is a widespread issue in the United States, and it’s no small wonder that we see it pretty often in divorce and custody cases. Whether it’s your alleged alcoholism, or whether you’re worrying about your husband’s consumption of alcoholic beverages (and, of course, whether it’s a divorce or a custody case we’re talking about), there are some things you should know as you prepare to face a family law case in the Virginia courts.

Alcoholism in Divorce Cases

The first thing you should know is that, as far as Virginia divorce is concerned, alcoholism does not provide grounds for divorce. Allegations that you or he has consumed too much alcohol or that you suffer from alcoholism (or even specific medical diagnoses) do not constitute a reason, under Virginia law, for a divorce to be granted.
Alcoholism as grounds for divorce
As far as fault based grounds are concerned, you have a couple of available options: adultery, sodomy, buggery, cruelty, apprehension of bodily hurt, desertion, abandonment, and felony conviction. (To learn more about the fault based grounds of divorce, click here.) Though alcoholism may be linked to one or more of the fault based grounds (say, for example, that when he drinks too much he is also physically violent), alcoholism on its own isn’t grounds for divorce.

Alcoholism and property division

Typically speaking, when a case is purely a divorce, the fact that one spouse or the other is or is not an alcoholic isn’t all that relevant. Though there may be related issues, it’s probably not going to be worthwhile to spend a ton of time gathering evidence, witnesses, or preparing exhibits to demonstrate one spouse’s alcoholism. There’s no question that alcoholism could be a negative nonmonetary contribution that led to the breakdown of the marriage (and, technically, that allows a judge to consider awarding a disproportionate award of the assets to the spouse that had been disadvantaged by that negative contribution), I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen. If you have questions or want to know whether his alcoholism could have an impact on the way your assets are divided, you should give us a call at (757) 425-5200 to schedule a one on one consultation.

Alcoholism in Custody Cases

In custody cases, alcoholism could be more important—chiefly because it has less to do with why you’re getting divorced or how things might be divided (things that, to a judge, don’t matter nearly as much as “equitably” resolving your partnership) and everything to do with what’s in the best interests of your minor children. When it comes to kids, most judges (whether in juvenile or circuit court) take their responsibilities very seriously. It’s not just a divorce, where the chief concern is taking a businesslike approach to dividing a partnership, but instead has to do with minor children. Judges (like most everybody else) think kids are pretty important. Wouldn’t you agree? Anyway, that makes alcoholism a different kind of allegation entirely.

The best interests of the child

The best interests of the child factors are so-called because they are the basis used by every judge in every court in the Commonwealth to make decisions related to the care and custody of minor children. One of the factors is, unsurprisingly, the physical and mental well being of the parents, and another is the parents’ ability to adapt to the children’s continuing developmental needs (head’s up: I’m paraphrasing here). (To read all of the factors in their entirety, click here.) There are more factors that could relate to alcoholism, too, depending on the specific facts present in your unique case, but I’m just trying to show you an example here of what I’m talking about when it comes to alcoholism in a custody case.
With either of these factors, the ability of the parents to care for the children is paramount. These factors require that the parents see outside their own limitations in order to address the needs of the children; if, for whatever reason (alcoholism included), a parent can’t do that, it goes against the best interests of the child.

Alcoholism in a litigated custody case

In a case that is litigated (meaning that it goes in front of a judge rather than being determined between the parties by agreement), alcoholism can be an important factor. In a case where alcoholism has been diagnosed, for example, it might be necessary to bring in witnesses (like a doctor or a therapist) to discuss the extent of the problem, the degree to which the party involved is cooperating with treatment, and how the problem might affect the child’s best interests.
There will also likely be a guardian ad litem appointed who would ultimately make a recommendation to the court.


Alcoholism in an uncontested case

In an uncontested custody case (meaning a case where the parties are able to reach an agreement), it’s often customary to include a provision that neither of the parties consume alcoholic beverages in the presence of the parties (or, sometimes, when the children are in their care, or even 48 hours before the children are in their care, depending on how big the problem is). The provisions are usually mutual, meaning that they apply to both parties, but can be written to apply to only one party if necessary.
We sometimes also include provisions regarding driving with the children when alcohol has been consumed, and can even limit the people who are allowed to be around the child (or to care for the child alone) in the event that another person is part of the problem.
Obviously, when it comes to the best interests of the child, alcoholism is a relevant concern. In a pure divorce case, alcoholism is probably less important—though, of course, a lot depends on the specifics of your unique situation. Whether it’s your alcoholism that is being questioned or whether there’s a concern about his ability to care for the children, it’s important to discuss your unique facts with an attorney to make sure that you’re prepared to proceed in the best possible manner. For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.