Divorcing an Alcoholic in California
Living with an alcoholic can be challenging, to put it mildly. Whether your spouse’s alcohol dependence makes day-to-day life unbearable or he or she is abusive toward you or your children, if you are at your wit’s end, you do not have to subject yourself to the effects of your spouse’s condition for the rest of your life.
So, you are thinking about divorcing an alcoholic. What do you need to know?
California is a “No-Fault” Divorce State
The first thing you should know is that California is a “no-fault” divorce state. This means that you can choose to get divorced for any reason or no reason at all; and, if you have a reason, you do not have to state your reason in your divorce filing. If your spouse’s alcohol dependence has caused you to reach irreconcilable differences, whatever that means to you, then you have every right to choose to end your marriage.
You Can Decide How Relevant Your Spouse’s Condition is to Your Divorce
Once you make the decision to file for divorce, the next decision you need to make is how much of an issue (if any) you want to make of your spouse’s alcoholism. From a divorce perspective, there are no benefits to being an alcoholic; so, if you do not raise your spouse’s condition during your divorce, your spouse almost certainly won’t raise it either.
Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, there are a variety of potential ways that your spouse’s alcoholism could be relevant to the process. Most significantly, if your spouse becomes violent while under the influence of alcohol, you can seek a protective order for yourself and your children under California’s Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA). This is actually a separate proceeding from your divorce, and you can – and should – seek immediate legal protection if necessary.
With respect to your divorce specifically, ways your spouse’s alcoholism can be relevant include:
1. Child Support
If your spouse’s alcohol dependence has resulted in unemployment or forced him or her into underemployment, then his or her actual income may not be determinative with regard to child support. In California, a child support calculation can be based upon one or both parents’ ability to pay, and this ability is judged based on each parent’s education, training, job experience, and other qualifications.
2. Spousal Support
The same general principles apply to spousal support (or “alimony”), although spousal support is calculated differently from child support under California law. If your spouse should be earning more but isn’t due to his or her alcoholism, then you may still be able to calculate alimony based upon his or her earning potential.
Likewise, if your alcoholic spouse is the one who is seeking alimony in your divorce, alcoholism generally is not justification for a higher spousal support award. Section 4331 of the California Family Code includes provisions for obtaining a vocational assessment to determine an unemployed or underemployed spouse’s “ability to obtain employment that would allow the party to maintain herself or himself at the marital standard of living” if necessary.
3. Child Custody
When it comes to establishing child custody in a divorce, all decisions must reflect the “best interests” of the children involved. California law requires examination of a laundry list of factors when deciding what is in a child’s best interests, including “the habitual or continual abuse of alcohol” by either parent. For many spouses of alcoholics, protecting their children is understandably their top priority; and, in many cases, this means seeking to limit their children’s time with their alcoholic parent.
Speak with a North County, San Diego Divorce Lawyer in Confidence
If you would like to discuss your situation with a divorce lawyer, we encourage you to contact us about scheduling a confidential initial case evaluation. To request an appointment with North County, San Diego divorce lawyer and Certified Family Law Specialist Richard M. Renkin, please call 619-299-7100 or inquire online today.