What Can I Do About an Ex’s Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse can lead to mental confusion, forgetfulness, aggression, loss of consciousness and many other significant issues that could impact children in the person’s custody. If you have reason to suspect your ex-spouse is abusing drugs and/or alcohol and fear for the safety of your children during visits or overnight stays, you have the right to act. You can take immediate action, such as temporary custody orders, as well as petition the courts for a more permanent solution until your ex-spouse recovers.

Tell an Attorney

If you know about your soon-to-be-ex spouse’s substance abuse before your divorce, tell your attorney about the situation upfront. Your lawyer can take steps to make the presence of the abuse disorder known during your mediation or trial to protect your children from potential harm from the beginning, such as having your ex-spouse tested for illegal drugs during a divorce trial.

If you do not tell anyone about the substance abuse, a judge may unknowingly put your children in harm’s way by granting your sick or irresponsible spouse custody rights. If you cannot trust your spouse to take proper care of your children because of a substance abuse disorder, say something. Telling your attorney about an ex-spouse’s drug or alcohol problem from the start can lead to custody orders that protect your children from harm.

Cooperate With the Judge

A judge during your divorce case may ask you further questions about your ex’s substance abuse, such as when it started, how it affected the relationship and whether it ever negatively impacted the children. Cooperate with the judge as much as you can during an investigation and court proceedings. Use your attorney to help submit evidence of your ex’s substance abuse issue, such as police reports, criminal charges or character witness statements. Do not, however, try to confront your ex-spouse.

Request a Custody Modification

You still have rights regarding an ex’s substance abuse if you did not tell your attorney during divorce proceedings or if your ex-spouse acquires the addiction after the split. You can petition the courts for a child custody modification order if you believe your children are at risk under your ex-spouse’s care. You or your lawyer will need to convince a judge during a hearing that a modification will be in the best interests of the child due to the substance abuse issue. If you succeed, the judge will order official changes to a child custody agreement until your ex-spouse can prove he or she has overcome the addiction and can serve as a responsible guardian.

File a Protective Order

If an ex’s substance abuse has led to violence, physical attacks, emotional abuse, harassment, threats, stalking, kidnapping or other crimes against you or your children, you can file a protective order (also called a restraining order) against him or her for your family’s protection. A protective order will require your ex-spouse to keep a certain distance away from you and your kids, as well as cut off all contact (emails, calls, texts, etc.). If your ex-spouse breaches the terms of a restraining order, he or she could go to jail.

Host an Intervention

Substance abuse hurts everyone involved. Even though you are divorced, it can be important to help your ex-spouse overcome a drug or alcohol addiction for the good of your children and their relationship with their mother or father, if nothing else. It is best for a child to grow up with both parents, if possible. Host an intervention for your ex-spouse by contacting a professional substance abuse treatment center. A professional can orchestrate an intervention to convince your spouse to seek rehabilitation and addiction treatment. Getting back the right to visit and spend time with children could be enough of a reason for your ex-spouse to commit to a treatment program and get better.