How to win custody when divorcing an alcoholic

Are you divorcing an alcoholic? Here are some things to keep in mind as you go through the process.

What's Inside

What's Inside

When your spouse tries to find solutions at the bottom of a whisky bottle, you might be ready to throw in the towel on your marriage. And if you’re divorcing an alcoholic spouse with whom you share a minor child, you might have additional concerns about how much parenting time that spouse will receive in the divorce decree. 

Depending on where you file for divorce, there are steps you may take to win primary or sole custody of a child you have with a spouse who’s struggling with alcoholism. This article discusses how courts handle child custody when alcoholism is involved, how you may be able to prove alcoholism in court and other ways to try to ensure your child’s safety when divorcing an alcoholic.

How do divorce courts address child custody for an alcoholic parent?

Often, courts seek to have parents share custody. But a judge might choose to allocate all or most custody rights to one parent in some circumstances. The determining factor for child custody is what’s in the best interest of the child. 

Though they may differ by state, the information a court might consider when determining a child’s best interest in a custody case include:

  • Each parent’s ability to provide safety and adequate food, medical care, clothing and other material needs for their child 
  • The quality of the child’s relationship with each parent
  • Each parent’s ability to provide guidance, love and affection to the child
  • Any history of abuse committed by either parent
  • Each parent’s ability to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
  • The child’s adjustment to their community, school and home
  • The child’s wishes (depending on their age)

These factors might not outright mention alcoholism, but a parent’s alcoholism may diminish the quality of their relationship with their child or their ability to provide for and parent their child. A parent’s alcoholism could also significantly affect their child’s emotional development and ability to properly adjust to the world around them. 

How to prove alcoholism in custody cases

Proving that granting child custody to an alcoholic parent isn’t in your child’s best interest may require you to gather a fair amount of proof of your spouse’s alcoholism and what’s in your child’s best interest. Though this list isn’t exhaustive, such evidence may include:

  • Your testimony
  • Results of previous alcohol or drug tests from your spouse
  • Healthcare reports regarding your spouse’s physical and mental health
  • Testimony from your child
  • Testimony from healthcare, childhood development or education professionals
  • Healthcare reports regarding your child’s physical and mental health
  • Witness testimony regarding your spouse’s alcohol consumption (including testimony from your spouse)
  • School records regarding your child’s grades, disciplinary issues and any other concerns
  • Any evaluations from childhood development, healthcare or education professionals
  • Testimony from individuals who’ve witnessed your spouse’s behavior when they’re under the influence of alcohol or other substances
  • Employment records for you and your spouse
  • Any police records regarding your spouse

Other remedies for addressing an alcoholic parent and child custody concerns

A parent’s alcoholism doesn’t mean that a court will automatically deny them custody of their child. If a court grants joint custody to your alcoholic spouse, you still have legal options for preventing the harm their alcoholism could cause. Those legal options include the following.

A sobriety clause in a custody agreement or order

The court in your jurisdiction might enforce a custody agreement between you and your spouse that requires them to remain sober to receive parenting time

Testing your spouse for alcohol use

To hold your spouse accountable for their sobriety, the court may require that they submit to urinalysis or other lab work to test for their alcohol or drug use. Depending on the laws in your state, a failed drug or alcohol test from the other parent could give you the right to ask the court to modify or restrict the other parent’s custody rights. 

Requiring your spouse to enter rehab or obtain treatment

You may also hold your spouse accountable for their sobriety by requesting a court order that requires them to attend a 12-step program or other treatment program. To prove compliance with the program and court order, your spouse may have to provide evidence that they attended the required amount of sessions. 

The divorce court might also require your spouse (and possibly you) to attend a parenting class. 

How an attorney may help

A parent’s alcoholism is a serious subject for everyone involved. Given the sensitivity of the matter, some parents appreciate the help of an attorney when divorcing an alcoholic parent. An attorney may help you strategize and gather all the evidence necessary to prove you’re entitled to sole custody in your divorce case. Additionally, an attorney might help you communicate with your alcoholic spouse and negotiate favorable terms in your parenting agreement. 

Share with

Bottom line

Our experienced team would love to help you move forward. Schedule a free 15-minute call so we can connect you with an experienced attorney.

Book a free call

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

Share with

More resources