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The importance of mental health and substance abuse on divorce

Family law attorneys tend to have people talk to us about subjects they usually reserve for their priest, pastor, or best friend. It allows us to learn more about the person and best help them in their family law case.

What it also does is help us to guide future clients better because we will have a better idea of the problems that affect families going through child custody and divorce situations. Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, will discuss the issues of mental health and substance abuse in the context of family law cases.

Concerns aplenty go along with substance abuse and mental health issues

When families are being pushed to their limit due to relational problems, it is common for spouses and parents to become amateur psychologists. I’ve heard the term “bipolar” used when describing a spouse many times during a consultation with potential clients.

The inconsistency in behavior and attitude drives many spouses into the office of a family law attorney. If you can’t predict what your spouse will do on a day-to-day basis, it is hard to feel confident that you know where they are going over the broader scope of time. This is doubly true (if not more so) if you have children with a spouse who displays inconsistent behavior traits.

Another topic that is regularly discussed is medication usage or lack thereof. Addiction is a massive issue today and is seen in divorce and child custody cases with regularity. Many people seek assistance for their mental health problems from medications with side effects like drowsiness, irritability, or weight gain. As a result, the side effects outweigh the benefits in the eyes of many, and as a result, the medications are not always taken as prescribed.

What results is that their spouse comes in to talk to us about how the children are at risk because their spouse acts angrily towards the kids when they are not taking their medication as prescribed. This is how the spouse is during supposedly “normal” times. Their concern also has to do with what happens when a divorce is filed. Will the spouse attempt to harm themselves, our potential client, or their children?

On the other hand, some folks come in to talk to us about their substance abuse histories. Many people will tell us that they too battled addiction and still do to this day. However long they have been sober, often, their story ends with a DUI from twenty years ago or termination from work due to problems maintaining sobriety. The question will usually come around to what effect their past behaviors will have on their family law case.

Substance abuse is difficult to prove in court.

If you intend to prove to a judge that your spouse has a substance abuse problem, be prepared to prove it in court. The fact is that it is not easy to prove to a judge that your spouse has substance abuse problems.

Many people have suspicions that their spouses are doing something unfaithful to their marriage- substance abuse, infidelity, etc. Go back and look at the concerns I addressed in the prior section of this blog regarding what people discuss with our attorneys in consultations. Much of those concerns have to do with perceptions, feelings, and the like. Very little is based on factual knowledge or evidence.

Your perceptions may not always be the reality of the situation. The other concept that we must seriously consider is that people are not always honest when asked questions about issues related to their family law case.

Put another way: people lie, even after swearing an oath to be truthful. The sort of back and forth you see on these talk shows where one spouse is yelling accusations at the other all while the crowd is either booing, cheering, or engaging in some combination of the two? That is, in effect, what happens in a courtroom hearing. The only difference is that it is done on a more subdued scale, and the argument takes longer to develop.

I have been in hearings where our client has been steadfast in their desire to present these arguments in the hearing. Sometimes against my better judgment, we will begin to go down the road of questioning the opposing party on issues about their sobriety, substance abuse, and other topics like this.

Unless there is direct evidence of substance abuse or the opposing party is just a poor witness, these questions do not lead to great results for our client. However, what will happen is that more unsubstantiated claims of substance abuse will occur- this time against our client.

All the while, the judge is losing interest in the proceedings. You may have great points to raise on other issues, but because you have taken up so much time discussing fruitless subjects, your salient points will fall on deaf ears. It is better to provide the judge a reason to listen than to bore them with mindless back and forth between witnesses. Provide your attorney with direct evidence of your spouse’s history with substance abuse or seriously consider moving on to a new subject.

How to protect your children from a spouse who is addicted to drugs or alcohol

Some of you may find yourself in a situation where your spouse is addicted to drugs and alcohol. An addict is someone whose addiction is having a profound effect on their relationships with other people. It will not be difficult to identify an addict, especially your children. They may even perceive differences in your spouse before you can.

If your spouse is an addict, they do not need to be with the kids as much as you do. This is for their safety and well-being. Supervised visitation where your spouse can only see the kids on a limited basis under the supervision of a court-approved adult is often the result of a proven case of substance abuse. Your spouse may also have to undergo counseling and therapy to win more time with your children down the road.

Many parents have thought that just because they use drugs or alcohol to excess does not mean that their child is put in harm’s way. For instance, last year, I had a client tell me that because she smokes marijuana after the children go to sleep, there is no way to be affected. The drugs were never used in front of the kids, and she kept her supply of the drug away from where the children had access.

My response to her was that she was bringing people into her home to purchase the drugs, first of all. She had told me that a cousin sold marijuana and that the cousin would come to the home frequently to sell to her. That cousin often brought “associates” with him on sales calls, so you can only imagine what a judge would have thought about a drug dealer and his associates coming into a house where children were sleeping.

Secondly- when you are using marijuana, your senses are dulled. What if an emergency were to happen? Would this client have reacted quickly to prevent an emergency from occurring? Very doubtful, at least to me. Don’t let rationalizations of your behavior, or those of a spouse, get the better of you. Is drug use dangerous and severely detrimental to your family law case?

Questions about drug use in preparation for a family law case? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC

If you believe that you need to speak to a family law attorney about divorce, I recommend that you contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, today. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations where your questions can be answered. We represent clients in family law cases across southeast Texas and would be honored to do the same for you and your family.

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