JLJ Family Law » Page 'Having a Collaborative Divorce with an Alcoholic or Drug Using Spouse'

Having a Collaborative Divorce with an Alcoholic or Drug Using Spouse

By: Jody L. Johnson of Allison | Johnson

There are lots of lawyers who will tell their clients that it is not possible to have a collaborative divorce with an active alcoholic or drug user spouse. Although it does present special challenges, it also presents an opportunity to protect children and reach settlements that would not be possible in traditional litigation. There are those limited cases where a person is so deep into their addiction that they cannot participate effectively in the collaborative process. However, those same people cannot effectively participate in litigation either and likely need to be in a treatment program in order to proceed in any process.

In Texas, the Courts are mandated by law to order a parenting time schedule that has the minimum restrictions required to protect children. As a result, in most cases an addict parent will have parenting time with their children, and it may not be supervised (or be supervised for a limited period). Almost always, the other parent is extremely upset with the outcome at the courthouse. Additionally, the parents become more polarized because the addict parent is angry as a result of being embarrassed at the courthouse by having his/her addiction “on display”. The addict parent typically sinks deeper into denial, all to the potential detriment of the safety of the children. They also become angry at the other spouse and take an attitude that “I won’t give them a penny more than the court orders”. In the collaborative process we are much more able to monitor the addiction and keep a lid on the situation. By discussing the addiction in a completely private and confidential setting, and without pointing fingers or assessing blame, we are more likely to get cooperation from the addict parent. Rather than focus on the addict parent, we focus on the addiction as a family problem and look at options for everyone to deal with it. Once they realize that we are not going to focus on them as the bad guy, they tend to be more open to exploring ways to keep the children safe and many even agree to seek treatment. When the addict parent feels like he/she has had some measure of control over the situation, then they are more invested and more likely to be compliant with the agreements they make. I have seen addict parents acknowledge that they are not ready to go into treatment and come up with parenting plans that are very protective of their children but allow them to have some form of relationship. I have also seen addict parents admit to relapse at some point in the process because they feel safe in doing that. In the litigation model, they hide their addiction because they know it will likely be used against them harshly.

By avoiding the blame game, clients are also more likely to obtain more favorable settlements than they might in court. When backed into a corner, most of us dig in our heels and become focused on not giving the other person what they want. In collaborative, clients are often open to favorable trades in exchange for their spouse showing them some respect and not using their addiction as a weapon.
For more information on Kip Allison and family law solutions, visit www.aj-familylaw.com

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