Well, one thing we often see when people file for divorce or choose to separate is that the addicted or mentally ill impaired parent/spouse does not want to raise the concern or get help for his or her addiction while going through the divorce process. The person fears that is going to be used against him or her, and that the court is ultimately going to punish the person by taking away custody. And because that concern is so prevalent what I normally advise people to do is to take a step back and go try to address your issues before you file. Filing the complaint for divorce brings up all sorts of emotions for both of the spouses. I mean whether you have an impairment or not, it is the rare circumstance that you have somebody who’s been married for any length of time who doesn’t have an emotional reaction to just the very nature of being redefined in our society as now a no longer married person or no longer in an intact family. And so all of those emotions often impair the parent’s, the spouse’s ability to interact with each other, to be reasoned and coherent to make good judgments.
Once you add to that the fact that you had a dysfunctional relationship because any relationship where you have an addict involved is inherently dysfunctional. Where you have this dysfunctional relationship and you’re not trying to severe it, the addict is then going to have the additional pressure of not only redefining themselves as no longer married but also trying to deal with an addiction in a fundamentally altered way because the person no longer has the support of his or her spouse. And so, if it’s not possible for the addict parent to not pursue the divorce or to put a cease fire on the divorce while he or she is getting help, the person should still seek the help even in the divorce process. Much more often than not you can have the court grant you additional time to complete your normal process of divorce in order for one party to go off to a rehabilitation center or seek the appropriate counseling that’s necessary. That is typically the best route in order to get the person either reunified with the person if custody is lost as a result of it. Or to be able to make the best arguments that the person is at least capable as their spouse having custody.
Allison C. Williams is a matrimonial and family law attorney serving Short Hills New Jersey. Her practice places an emphasis on complex child welfare matters. www.familylawyersnewjersey.com.