The impact of COVID-19 is being felt across all aspects of our lives. For many it may mean lost jobs, the stress of schooling kids at home, not being able to see loved ones, and dealing with social isolation. But for some, it could have even more dire effects, such as dealing with a spouse’s addiction.
An IPSOS poll revealed that as many as 40 percent of Canadians are struggling with mental health and addiction since the pandemic. And with many provinces and cities tightening up their lockdown measures since January 2021, some people have been increasingly turning to substance abuse or even relapsing, which is negatively impacting their relationships and marriages.
If you’re dealing with your spouse’s addiction and are thinking about getting a divorce, there are unique legal issues and strategies you might have to grapple with. Not only do you need to manage the separation issues, which are already stressful, but you’ll also have to try to mitigate the damage already inflicted by addiction. Below are some important steps to take when attempting to separate from someone who is an addict.
How to Deal With a Spouse’s Addiction
Get Early Legal Advice
Naturally, it is understandable to feel very stressed under these circumstances. You have the right to take things slowly before making a big decision. However, while you do not have to think about divorce proceedings right away, it is often very beneficial to contact a family lawyer who has experience dealing with these issues and seek advice on how to handle your particular situation. Addiction-related divorces are often linked to mental illness and this complex situation needs to be handled delicately.
If your spouse’s addiction has led to volatile behavior, your lawyer can help you plan for your safety and can help you design a plan of action to navigate your legal separation process.
When children are involved, their safety is your first priority. A lawyer can advise you on how to minimize risk to their safety by requiring that your spouse’s access be supervised by an independent supervision center or a trusted family member. The measures can include regular drug or alcohol testing or prohibitions on the consumption of substances before and during access. Measures can also be put in place to prevent the addicted parent from driving the children if he or she is impaired.
Working with an addiction support team can be facilitated if the family has been able to maintain some civility during the legal separation process
Proficient Supports and Legal Options
In a number of cases, mediation and collaborative law are well-suited to handle these kinds of family disputes. Unlike the courts, these legal approaches can help reduce potential conflict and it may allow you to reach a resolution in a cost-effective and timely fashion, privately.
When a couple reaches this stage, there is often a deep lack of trust between the partners. If clients provide instructions to their lawyer from a place of anger and deep lack of trust, the dispute can last longer and cost substantially more than if the conflict was handled in a collaborative negotiation setting.
Collaborative lawyers and mediators who are professionally trained to understand these dynamics can take steps to facilitate the fairness of the proceedings and to reduce, rather than fuel, the conflict.
These non-court types of processes allow you to work with a team that has specific skills and training in addiction. This may include family professionals that will help to build a parenting plan, or neutral financial professionals that can collect financial information for both sides in a neutral and efficient manner.
However, going to court is sometimes necessary when the level of addiction is out of control and is intertwined with untreated mental health issues.
Nathalie Boutet is an experienced Family Law lawyer, Accredited Mediator, and certified Family Enterprise Advisor™ in Toronto. She offers strategies to complex matters related to marriage agreements, separation, or divorce among high-net-worth families. Nathalie’s experience and strategic thinking help you understand the process and develop solutions that are unique to your needs. www.boutetfamilylaw.com