The Substance Abusing Spouse & Collaboration

by Jody Johnson

There are lots of lawyers who will tell clients it’s not possible to have a Collaborative Divorce with an active alcoholic or drug user spouse. And although such cases present special challenges, they’re also an opportunity to protect children and actually retain more control over outcomes than litigation produces.

Here’s why –

1. Texas law mandates parenting time for with minimum restrictions. Courts are bound to provide both spouses parental time with their children. As a result, the addict parent may have unsupervised visitations or limited supervision, even before they have arrested their addiction. In a Collaborative divorce, clients don’t hand control over to the courts. Working with the Mental Health team member, both parties can agree to short-term solutions that are best for their children and lay the groundwork for a healthier long-term plan.

2. Court exposure humiliates and polarizes. The addict parent inevitably becomes angry as a result of the embarrassment of having his/her addiction “on display” at the courthouse. This can sink the addict deeper into denial, protracting the proceedings and even threatening the safety of the children. By discussing the addiction in the completely private and confidential setting of Collaborative Divorce – without pointing fingers or assessing blame – we are more likely to reach a positive, cooperative agreement.

3. Addiction is not a legal issue. It’s a personal, family problem. Rather than focus on the addict parent as the villain, Collaborative Divorce focuses on addiction as a family problem. This open, proactive approach produces more honesty from all sides. Once the addict realizes that the Collaborative process is not about placing blame, they tend to be more willing to explore ways to keep the children safe and many even agree to seek treatment.

Given these facts, it’s surprising to me that there are actually adversarial attorneys who encourage bluster, contention and litigation in such cases. They know the eventual outcomes. They know there’s only one real “winner,” and it’s not either spouse or the children.

Collaborative Divorce Dallas has a process that works in cases where substance abuse is an issue. It requires allowing the addict parent to feel some measure of participation. They are then 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 while allowing them to have some form of relationship. I’ve also seen addict parents admit to relapse during the process because they feel safe doing so. In litigation, they hide such truths because 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 Divorce, clients are often open to favorable exchanges simply for their spouse showing them some respect and not using their addiction as a weapon.

There are adversarial attorneys who fuel our society’s addiction to contentious and ugly litigation. Collaborative Divorce Dallas seeks to break the habit and create healthier lives for all.


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