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Teaming During the Divorce Process: Dealing with Addiction Issues

Good Counsel: For Mental Health Professionals, Uncategorized

A significant number of divorce cases involve addiction, or at least allegations of addictive behavior, by at least one of the spouses. Whether the attorney is representing the addict or the spouse of the addict, it is distinct challenge to guide clients in making their best decisions without some understanding of how the addiction or co-addiction may impact the client’s judgment during the divorce.

Issues of Assessment

In cases where there is a question about the existence of addiction, it is common for the idea of an addiction assessment to be discussed during the divorce. This is especially true if the addiction is thought to have an impact on parenting. How the addiction is addressed during the divorce will depend, in large part, on whether the existence of the addition is being addressed as an issue of evidence or as a health issue. In a court-intensive process, the person who is being examined is likely to be very defensive since the existence of an addiction, if determined, may result in restrictions on parenting time. Consequently, it is difficult to obtain reliable information from the assessments.

On the other hand, when the divorce is being handled outside the shadow of the courts, (in a Collaborative or mediated divorce), there is an opportunity for the addiction to be treated as a health issue, in a confidential manner. In this context, the parties can agree on parameters for addressing the addiction that may permit the addict to seek help with less fear that his or her candor will be used against him/her.

In either case, if the addict, or alleged addict, is working with a therapist, there is an outstanding opportunity for the attorney and the therapist to work together to help the client find a safe way to address these issues. This will depend, in part, on the attorney’s ability to secure confidentiality for all of the professionals involved.

Recovery and Relapse

In cases where one of the parties is a recovering addict, many additional issues need to be addressed, particularly if there has been a fairly recent relapse. In order to regain some level of trust from the other co-parent, there may need to be a negotiation about the specific actions that the addict will take to reduce the risk of relapse, as well as specific agreements about the impact of relapse. The addict’s therapist can help the client, and the attorney, immensely, in assisting them to determine parameters that will enhance the chances for future success.

Co-Addict Issues

Similarly, the attorney working with the non-addicted spouse will often be faced. Particularly if the other spouse has codependency issues, there may be difficult questions about how to help the co-dependent spouse make the best decisions during the divorce. Co-dependent spouses are faced with crucial decisions that force them to make judgments about what things they can control and what realities need to be accepted as being beyond their control or influence. Often the attorney will be asked to guide them in making these judgments. While the attorney is presumed to have the skill to guide the client regarding the legal realities, the capacity of the co-dependent spouse to make sound decisions goes well beyond understanding the legal realities. The client’s therapist is generally the best resource for helping the co-dependent spouse identify issues such the tendency to enable the addict and other patterns of behavior common in addictive families. Once again, some level of communication between the attorney and the therapist can be beneficial to spouses facing these difficult circumstances.


In the next segment, we will address the differences between the role of the clients therapist and the divorce coach.

Next: Teaming During the Divorce Process: Coaching vs. Therapy

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