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Is Alcoholism Grounds for Divorce?: Effects, Planning & Coping Tips

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Alcoholism can negatively impact every area of someone’s life, including their marriage. When alcoholism deteriorates a relationship, there’s a higher risk of it ending in divorce.

People may cite their partner’s alcoholism as grounds for divorce because of its far-reaching effects. Often, alcohol addiction harms a person’s communication, trust, finances and well-being. When a spouse ends a marriage, they may or may not present the reasoning to the judge. Laws vary by state when it comes to divorce. In some areas, you can cite your partner’s alcohol addiction as the cause if you have tangible evidence.

Alcoholism and Divorce

Alcohol misuse greatly affects relationships and is frequently a contributing factor to divorce. One study found that 48.3% of participants with an alcohol use disorder reported their marriages ended. Alcoholism often leads to communication breakdown, erratic behavior, financial strain and emotional distress. This creates instability and conflict, leading to the decision to pursue divorce.

In addition to ending the relationship, alcoholism also impacts post-divorce custody and finances. Both spouses will have to navigate the legal, emotional and logistical issues of divorce on top of the effects of addiction.

Is Alcoholism Grounds for Divorce?

Alcoholism can serve as grounds for divorce in many states. When it leads to emotional, physical or financial harm toward the spouse or children, it can be considered a valid reason for seeking a divorce. However, the specifics can vary depending on local laws and regulations. Consult with a family law attorney about what is legally recognized as grounds for divorce in your state.

No-Fault Vs. At-Fault Divorces

There are two distinct legal approaches to ending a marriage. In an at-fault divorce, one spouse alleges the other committed a specific marital misconduct. A wrongdoing, such as infidelity, cruelty or abandonment, then ended the marriage. The spouse must provide evidence to support their claims. The court then determines fault before granting the divorce. In some cases, alcoholism can be cited as the reason for the at-fault divorce.

A no-fault divorce does not require either spouse to prove wrongdoing or assign blame. Instead, the parties state the marriage has broken down or irreconcilable differences exist. This approach recognizes that relationships end for different reasons. No-fault divorces typically involve less conflict and are more streamlined. They don’t require the same level of evidence as at-fault divorces.

All 50 states currently offer no-fault divorces as an option. However, only 17 states and the District of Columbia have no-fault divorces as the sole option. These states include: 

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Effects of Alcoholism on Marriage

Alcoholism can profoundly impact a marriage. The partner dealing with addiction may have behaviors that harm other family members’ well-being.

Unpredictable Behavior

Mood swings and erratic behaviors can create instability and uncertainty within the home. Spouses may feel like they’re walking on eggshells, unsure how their partner will react. They might also fear for their partner’s safety and well-being.

Communication Issues

As the addiction takes hold, open and honest communication becomes difficult. Misunderstandings and conflicts can arise due to impaired judgment and cognitive functioning. This may lead to a breakdown in meaningful conversations and emotional connection.

Domestic Violence and Emotional Abuse

Alcoholism does not cause domestic violence. (E.g., physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, sexual and financial abuse.) However, alcoholism may exacerbate abuse. Heavy drinking can escalate conflicts, endangering the safety of both partners. As one’s behavior becomes erratic, behaviors may include hostility or manipulation.

Financial Strain

The costs associated with alcoholism can lead to financial difficulties. This strain may be due to the money spent on alcohol or related job instability.

Child Neglect

Alcohol addiction can overshadow a person’s responsibilities. This can lead to neglect of their children’s physical, emotional and psychological needs. Neglect has long-lasting effects on a child’s well-being and the family dynamic. The other parent may decide to pursue divorce and full custody as a way to protect their children.

Planning for Separation or Divorce

If you’re considering ending your marriage, consult a trusted family law attorney. Select someone who is also knowledgeable about addiction treatment. Seeking legal advice can help you understand your rights and options. You’ll likely want to make a comprehensive list of assets, debts and shared property. You may also want to consider mediation to explore all possibilities.

Proving Alcoholism in Divorce Court

In cases where alcoholism is a factor, proving it in court requires evidence. You’ll need records, witnesses and incidents that demonstrate the impact of alcohol abuse on the marriage. Consulting with an attorney can help you build a strong case that supports your claims.

Child Custody and Visitation

Alcoholism can significantly influence child custody decisions. Courts prioritize the best interests of the child. They’ll want evidence of a parent’s ability to provide a safe and stable environment. An attorney can help you prepare for your custody hearing.

Financial Considerations for Divorce

Consult with a financial advisor regarding your shared assets, debts and potential alimony or child support payments. Inform your attorney about the alcoholism and your current finances. Determining how it might impact the financial aspects of the divorce is essential for a fair resolution.

Alimony and Spousal Support

If alcoholism contributed to the end of the marriage, it might influence alimony determinations. Legal consultation can help ensure that any financial support granted is equitable and considers the circumstances.

Freezing Joint Accounts and Credit Monitoring

Protect your financial well-being by freezing joint accounts during the divorce process. Monitor your credit to catch any unauthorized activity. Taking these steps helps safeguard your financial stability during a tumultuous time.

Removing Spouse as Authorized User

To avoid potential financial liabilities, remove your spouse as an authorized user from credit cards and accounts. This prevents the additional joint debt. It also ensures that each party is responsible only for their finances moving forward.

Coping With Emotional Stress During Divorce

Divorce is emotionally taxing, especially when alcoholism is involved. Seek support through therapy, support groups or close friends and family. Reaching out to loved ones and prioritizing your physical and mental health can help you navigate this time.

Finding Support Systems for Recovery

For individuals facing addiction, establishing support is a crucial piece of recovery. This may include inpatient treatment, outpatient programs or individual therapy. Other support options include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups and sober living homes.

If your loved one is struggling with addiction, caring for yourself is also important. You may find support through individual or family therapy and Al-Anon family groups.

Moving Forward Post-Divorce With an Alcoholic Spouse

Going through a divorce is a major life change. It may come with a wide range of emotions, including grief, anger, relief or anxiety. It’s common to need support as you adjust to your new normal. There’s a lot to navigate as a marriage ends.

Consider reaching out to trusted loved ones for emotional or physical support. This might look like asking for help picking the kids up from school, finding a new place to live or sharing how you’re doing. There are also divorce groups and individual therapists to support you as you heal and build coping strategies.

Frequently asked questions about divorce and alcoholism

What is the legal definition of alcoholism?

Defining alcoholism varies by jurisdiction. Most often, it’s defined as a chronic and compulsive condition involving excessive alcohol consumption that negatively impacts a person’s physical, mental and social well-being.

Can alcoholism be considered a form of abuse in a divorce case?

Yes, if the law permits, and it can be shown to have led to emotional, physical or psychological harm to their spouse or children. It may also influence custody, visitation and other legal decisions.

What percentage of divorce is due to alcoholism?

Statistics on alcoholism and divorce have varied over the years. One study that took place over nine years found that 50% of marriages where one partner drank heavily ended in divorce. Another study found that substance abuse accounted for 34.6% of divorces among participants.

How do I know if my spouse is an alcoholic?

Signs of alcoholism include increased tolerance, secretive drinking, neglect of responsibilities, withdrawal from social activities, mood swings and the inability to stop drinking.

If you or a loved one need support for alcohol addiction in Washington, The Recovery Village Ridgefield is here to help. Our team of experts provides supportive inpatient and partial hospitalization program (PHP) services amidst the beautiful mountain views of Ridgefield.

As a proud partner of the VA Community Care Network, we work with VA benefits to ensure veterans receive the best treatment. Reach out today, and one of our Recovery Advocates will guide you through the admissions process.

View Sources

Leonard KE, Smith PH, Homish GG. “Concordant and discordant alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use as predictors of marital dissolution.” Psychology of Addictive Behavior, September 28, 2014. Accessed August 23, 2023.

Scott, S.B., et al. “Reasons for Divorce and Recollections of Premarital Intervention: Implications for Improving Relationship Education.” Couple Family Psychology, June 2, 2013. Accessed August 23, 2023.

The Law Dictionary. “True vs. Optional No-Fault Divorce States.” Accessed August 23, 2023.