What Does It Take to Divorce an Alcoholic?

No one thinks their marriage will end in divorce. However, there are some instances when a marital separation seems like the appropriate action to take. One reason why many marriages end in divorce is because of alcoholism. Living with a partner who has alcohol use disorder can be extremely taxing, challenging, and unpredictable. But before you divorce an alcoholic spouse, there are some things you need to know.

Read on to learn about divorcing an alcoholic. How does alcohol abuse affect divorce? What is the process for separating from an alcoholic partner? And what are your ex-partner’s rights after you divorce them?

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How Does Alcoholism Affect Divorce?

In the U.S., all states accept no-fault divorces. This means that all married couples are entitled to divorce without there being anyone’s responsibility for the separation. Still, alcohol use disorder can impact the divorce proceedings and give a more preferable outcome in terms of child custody and restraining orders in situations where the alcoholic spouse has been abusive. Below are just some of the consequences alcoholism has on the divorce process:

  • Alcoholism could affect the outcome of child custody decisions, and restriction on visitations might apply, especially if the ex-spouse is still drinking.
  • When excessive drinking links with previous abuse or damage to property, a family court might issue restraining orders to protect you.
  • The courts might require drug and alcohol testing of the spouse with alcohol use disorder. This is extremely likely in cases that involve children.
  • Courts specializing in family law might file for protection orders if they perceive the alcoholic spouse poses a danger to you, your property, or your children.

How Many Marriages End in Divorce Because of Alcoholism?

Divorce and alcohol abuse, unfortunately, go hand in hand. In fact, alcoholism is one of the top three reasons for all marital separations in the U.S. Of all relationships with an alcoholic spouse, 48 percent end in divorce. This is significantly higher than in married couples when neither partner suffers (30 percent of the time) from an alcohol use disorder.

How to Divorce an Alcoholic Partner

If you want to divorce an alcoholic partner, you need to speak to a lawyer that specializes in divorce cases. They will help guide you through the divorce process. The exact procedure will vary depending on a few factors:

  1. Whether or not there are children involved
  2. Whether your partner is still abusing alcohol or not
  3. Whether the alcoholic is the main income provider or the lower earner

We look at how each of these factors impacts the divorce process in more detail below.

Divorcing an Alcoholic Who No Longer Abuses Alcohol Versus One Who Does

To use alcoholism as grounds for a divorce, your spouse has to currently be suffering from alcohol use disorder. This is a medical condition characterized by someone drinking so much alcohol that they can’t live a normal life. For example, it might impact their work and their relationships. Alcoholics have a dependency on alcohol and cannot go without it. If your partner is a previous alcoholic but has since overcome the disease, alcoholism cannot be used as grounds for the divorce.

Divorcing an Alcoholic When You Have Children

When there are children involved, the divorce process becomes more complicated. The spouse requesting the divorce is often torn between wanting to protect their children from their alcoholic partner and keeping them from seeing their other parent. In many cases, it can lead to a custody battle that can drag out the process.

You should always speak to a child custody attorney for their advice and opinions. The courts will always look at the child’s best interests when making any child custody arrangements. When one partner is an alcoholic, the courts will always favor the non-alcoholic parent. However, you will have to prove alcohol use disorder if your partner denies the claims. We have more information on how to prove alcoholism in divorce further down this page.

Divorcing an Alcoholic Who Is Also the Family’s Financial Support

While a large percentage of alcoholics lose their jobs, there are also many high-functioning alcoholics. Therefore, your alcoholic husband or wife may be responsible for making the majority of the household income. The supporting spouse does not get any additional rights in the divorce process. However, the stress of a divorce could impact their ability to perform well at work and continue to provide. In many cases, their alcohol dependency worsens and can lead to situations where they become abusive toward their spouse and/or children.

It is best to be prepared for this outcome. Your attorney will have dealt with situations like this in the past and may suggest requesting restraining orders. There will also be options for child support and spousal support available that your lawyer can advise you on further.

Divorcing an Alcoholic Who Is the Lower Income Earner

If the spouse with alcohol use dependency earns a lower or no income, the situation changes. It is possible they can’t get a job because of their disorder. When being supported by their partner this was OK, but following the separation, things will be different. In these cases, an alcohol rehabilitation plan and becoming a member of support groups is a good idea. This will encourage the alcoholic spouse to stop drinking to help them function on a day-to-day basis.

How Do You Prove Alcoholism in Court?

If you’re using alcoholism as grounds for marital separation, you need to know how to prove alcoholism in divorce. The courts need enough evidence to accept the separation. It is also critical in child custody battles so that the best outcome for the child is agreed upon. Working closely with a divorce attorney is your best chance of a quick and simple divorce process. However, here are the types of documents you can pull together to help prove your case:

  • Pictures of damaged property that occurred under the influence
  • Details of police reports of abuse or drunk driving
  • Medical records from any physical abuse or hospitalization of the alcoholic spouse
  • Reports from mutual friends stating the seriousness of your spouse’s dependence
  • Notes documenting when your partner drank, how much they drank, and their behavior
  • Examples of any time you felt unsafe because of your alcoholic partner

You can also ask the courts to perform random alcohol testing on your partner. If high levels of alcohol are found in their system, this can act as proof that they have an alcohol dependency.

Also read:Divorcing a Husband Who Won’t Work

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What to Expect After Divorcing a Partner with Alcohol Use Disorder

A divorce can be a very emotionally draining experience, especially if you are divorcing an alcoholic. However, you must think ahead and plan for life after your divorce. Here are some things you can expect after the separation is finalized:

·         If there are children involved, be prepared for them to ask questions. It is difficult for children to understand their parent’s alcohol consumption and why they don’t get help. Expect to be asked difficult questions and answer as short and to the point as possible. It’s important to let your kids know they are loved.

·         Expect to feel extreme emotions following a divorce. In most cases, partners will initially feel a sense of relief. This is especially true when their partner was abusive. However, this might not last forever. Many people find they feel guilt for not helping their ex-partner more as well. Try and let these emotions be, knowing that they’re only temporary.

·         You might find yourself drawn to similar unhealthy relationships further down the line. This is an unconscious decision. However, you want to avoid going down the same path again. Consider speaking to a therapist if you think your previous marriage is affecting your choices and decisions on future romantic partners.

What Are Your Alcoholic Ex-Partner’s Rights?

Your alcoholic ex-partner’s rights to child custody will vary from case to case. If the court perceives the alcoholic spouse to be a threat to the child’s welfare, the other parent will be given full custody. However, most family courts will still let the parent with alcoholism see their children by offering alternatives. This could include certain visitation rights such as:

  • The alcoholic parent can only see the child while the other parent is present.
  • Overnight visits are not permitted for the alcoholic spouse.
  • The parent with alcoholism can only visit their children while sober.
  • Your ex-partner is required to take regular random alcohol tests to keep their rights.
  • Visitations are only allowed if the alcoholic spouse attends support groups.

In terms of rights to property, most courts will try to split all assets equally between both parties. However, in some instances, the alcoholic spouse could be penalized. For example, if they used a significant portion of marriage funds to support their alcohol addiction. The same is true for their right to spousal support; if they have used an unfair amount of assets to purchase alcohol, their spousal support payments might be reduced.


Divorcing an alcoholic spouse can be a challenging process to go through. On top of all the usual divorce-related challenges and complexities, there is the health of the alcoholic spouse to consider. Always contact a divorce attorney for better help navigating the process. They can work toward the best outcome for you and your family. 

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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