Addressing Addiction: Substance Abuse Treatment And Its Impact On Divorce

An open bottle of pills.

Addressing Addiction: Substance Abuse Treatment And Its Impact On Divorce

Divorce alone is a challenging and complicated subject, but it becomes increasingly more so when it comes to addressing addiction. While it is not unheard of for addiction to be a factor in divorce negotiations, the additional emotional strain along with legal complications can make a bad situation worse. These factors can have a large impact on divorce, changing the landscape of settlements, custody, and even alimony payments. The ripple effects are not just emotional, but financial and legal as well.


To learn more about divorce law and addiction, consider speaking with an Arizona family attorney from Sullivan Law Office who will serve you with compassion and strength. Call at (480) 719-2558 to schedule a consultation.

Defining Addiction

There are many false and misleading definitions of addiction. Misunderstanding or misinterpreting these definitions may have harmful effects on the legal proceedings, so it is important to ensure a proper definition. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.” They go on to explain that a person with addiction uses substances or engages in behaviors despite the harmful consequences of those actions. 


Addiction can deeply affect marriages and therefore will have a significant impact on divorce. Sometimes addiction can be a driving force pushing couples apart, but it can also come about as a result of a divorce. Recognizing the effect of substance abuse can be a key point in divorce settlements.

Addiction Versus Dependence

However, there is a deeper nuance to those terms than what first meets the eye. One must also consider the difference between addiction and dependence. Both may have an impact on divorce, but the proceedings and conversations addressing addiction and dependence may vary.


Addiction is the condition of compulsive use of a substance or behavior that continues despite the negative consequences. There are many contributing factors to this condition, but these factors are primarily mental.


Dependence is different, referring to the state where the body has adapted to the presence of a substance, leading to physical withdrawals when the substance is removed. Both share similar overlapping territory, but dependence puts more emphasis on the physical impact of the substance.

The Relationship Between Addiction and Divorce

Naturally, the challenges posed by addiction have a distinct impact on divorce. There is increased emotional strain, financial burdens, and more complicated legal proceedings. 

Is Addiction Considered Grounds for Divorce?

The challenges of a spouse with addiction may lead one to question whether addiction itself is grounds for divorce. In a contested divorce in other states, addiction may or may not be considered grounds, but additional factors that accompany addiction often are considered such.

Addiction often leads to other behaviors like neglect, violence, and financial irresponsibility, which may provide proper grounds for divorce. Every divorce situation is different, but the combined effects of addiction and behaviors associated with it will likely affect the legal proceedings. 


However, Arizona is considered a “no-fault divorce” state, which means that either party does not have to prove grounds to file for a divorce, though this does not apply to covenant marriages. While addressing addiction may not change the grounds for divorce, it can affect things like child custody, visitation, and co-parenting. If you are considering divorce, contact the experienced and compassionate Arizona family law attorneys at Sullivan Law Office. 

Child Custody in Substance Abuse Divorces

The area of divorce settlement that is often most deeply affected by addiction is child custody. Since addiction often impairs judgment and leads to unpredictable behaviors, it can dramatically shift the decisions made for the safety and welfare of the child. 


As previously stated, courts often prioritize the well-being of the child, as they often cannot advocate for themselves and their safety. Therefore, the severity of the substance abuse and the addict’s ability to control their behavior may impact the settlements on child custody, visitation, and child support. 


For example, if an addict is willing to enter rehabilitation and pay for child support, it may be a more favorable situation for them to have greater involvement in the child’s life. However, if the addict is not able to take on parental responsibilities, they may be restricted to supervised visitation and other protections of the child’s welfare. 


If you want to know more about the Arizona court’s protective measures for children, consider speaking with an experienced attorney at Sullivan Law Office.

How Does Addiction Affect a Divorce Settlement?

Settlements in the case of a divorce may be impacted by the effects of addiction. Substance abuse may affect the negotiations depending on the addict’s willingness to seek help or the severity of the addiction, and there are many different areas of the settlement that this affects. 

Visitation schedules are likely the most deeply affected, as substance abuse may impair a divorcee’s ability to interact with the child in a safe and healthy environment. Courts often prioritize the well-being and safety of the child, therefore they are likely to be hesitant if one parent’s addiction poses a risk to it. This may affect visitation schedules and the possibility of co-parenting. 


Addiction may also impact the division of assets, as the impaired decision-making of the addict may not lend itself to financial responsibility. Depending on the severity of the addiction, the financial strain may have an impact on divorce settlements. 


The amount and duration of alimony payments may also be affected by addiction. This is especially the case when addiction has led to financial instability or dependency on the other spouse. 


The presence of addiction may also complicate the legal proceedings, leading to longer negotiations and potential assessments of addiction. Treatment needs and counseling may also become a factor, and this may change the timeline of finalizing the divorce. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some frequently asked questions regarding substance abuse treatment and its impact on divorce. 

How Do I Get Help for a Spouse Struggling With Substance Abuse?

Many addiction or substance abuse hotlines are available for immediate support, but there are also other options such as inpatient rehabilitation, medical detox services, and addiction counseling. 

What Role Do Family Law Attorneys Play in Cases Involving Addiction During Divorce?

Family law attorneys may help to support intervention measures, compile evidence of the impact addiction has had on the marriage, and negotiate settlement terms. They can also assist in legal counsel if the divorce is contested. 

How Many Divorces Are Caused By Addiction?

As divorce is a complicated subject, it is difficult to gauge the exact cause of a dissolution of marriage. The average divorce rate in America is around fourteen divorces per every thousand married women, and due to the strain on relationships presented by substance abuse, the rate of divorces when addiction is involved is likely higher.

Contact an Experienced and Compassionate Arizona Family Attorney

Divorce can be a complicated road to walk, and it becomes even more difficult when one is also addressing addiction. A skilled divorce attorney can help navigate through the difficulty and fight with compassion and strength to protect your legal rights. If you are seeking this legal counsel in Mesa, Arizona, consider contacting Sullivan Law Office at (480) 719-2558 for a consultation.