Substance Abuse & California Divorce

How Substance Abuse Can Affect Your Divorce

According to data from California Health Care Foundation, half of Californians (12 years of age) and older used alcohol in the past month, and 20% reported using marijuana in the last year. While not all of those individuals suffering from addiction, substance abuse disorders and overdose deaths are on the rise; and the rise of drug and alcohol abuse and consumption don’t just affect those individuals—it can also impact their families.

Those with addictions may alienate themselves from or create conflict within their families as their addiction can cause financial issues, a loss of trust, instability, and other issues that lead to divorce. If either party in a divorce struggles with addiction, that can affect aspects of your divorce, including:

  • Property division and wasteful dissipation. California is a community property state, which means that assets acquired during the marriage are considered the property of both parties, and the court will divide marital property equally. However, the non-addicted spouse may try to prove that the other party squandered their marital funds and assets (i.e wasted recklessly or foolishly) to feed their addiction. If they can prove that the addicted spouse is guilty of wasteful dissipation during or after their marriage, the non-guilty spouse may be entitled to a large share of the marital property; they may also be exempt from having to take on certain marital debts.
  • Child custody. The court prioritizes the welfare and best interest of the child when making child custody determinations. If substance abuse allegations arise, the court will take the allegations seriously and investigate whether the accused has a substance abuse issue. When these allegations are made, the concern becomes whether the parent is a danger to their child, hangs around questionable people who may endanger the child, and has the means to care for the child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs. To learn more about the implications of addiction on custody, review our previous blog, “Substance Abuse And Child Custody.”
  • Alimony. Just as with property division, alimony determinations are typically only affected if the addicted party negatively affected the marital finances. If the non-addicted spouse can prove that the other party is using or plans to use the alimony payments to fund their addiction, the court may also halt payments.
  • Reputation. Unless your divorce records are sealed, your divorce records will be publicly accessible, which means that co-workers, friends, family, and any other person may be able to see the evidence and other details of your divorce. However, it is important to note that if you file uncontested or via mediation, less evidence and information will be included in the divorce records.
  • Negotiations. If you and your partner plan to file uncontested, you may use divorce mediation or negotiations. In many cases, the addicted party may prefer to utilize mediation to avoid leaving determinations to the court. However, mediation and negotiation can be complicated in cases involving addiction because of trust issues and resentment.

Does It Matter If You Are Sober Now?

If the person struggling with addiction is now sober, that does matter, especially as it relates to child custody and alimony. Recovering addicts can submit evidence to prove that they have sought treatment and have changed their behaviors. Evidence can include:

  • Records from rehab or treatment centers
  • Medical records
  • Proof of AA meeting attendance
  • Psych evaluation records
  • Witness statements

Get Legal Help

Burch Shepard Family Law Group is equipped to handle complex divorce cases as well as child custody issues. If you or your spouse has (or had) an addiction issue, our attorneys can help you understand the implications that can have on your case and develop a personalized case strategy.

Call (949) 565-4158 or complete our online form for the legal representation you need and deserve.