If you’re divorcing someone because of alcoholism or substance abuse problems, it may change the course of how the divorce proceeds and impact things like child custody.

Article at a Glance:

Alcoholism is a common reason why people seek a divorce.

Yes, alcoholism can be grounds for divorce in states where at-fault divorces are legal, such as New York and Texas.

Even in states like California, where there is no at-fault divorce filing, alcoholism can affect divorce-related rulings, such as child custody.

Alcoholism is not generally grounds for an annulment, but it can affect child custody.

Winning a child custody battle is very difficult as a parent who suffers from a substance abuse problem.

Alcoholism is a serious, traumatic problem for families and for couples. Being married to someone who is an alcoholic can lead the other spouse to feel hopeless, depressed and alone. It can even turn into a situation with a cycle of abuse, particularly if the spouse abusing alcohol is prone to violence when drinking or experiences blackouts.

Alcoholism and Divorce Facts

There are strong correlations between heavy alcohol use and divorce rates in the United States. Couples with one heavy drinker are the most likely to divorce, while couples with either two heavy drinkers or two abstaining partners are much less likely to divorce.

Alcoholism can diminish relationships to the point where they can no longer be salvaged. It can turn someone from the spouse you once loved to a virtual stranger. Alcoholism impacts a marriage in so many ways: people with substance abuse problems tend to tell lies (See: Why Do Alcoholics Lie?) and be secretive to cover their drinking, and it can be difficult for alcoholics to focus their attention outside of themselves in many cases.

It’s for all of these reasons that it’s not uncommon for people to wonder whether they should leave the relationshipand if alcoholism constitutes legal grounds for divorce or annulment.

Marriage and substance abuse of any kind can be complicated, but the following overview explains if and when alcoholism is grounds for divorce or annulment.

Is Alcoholism Grounds For Divorce?

If you’re divorcing someone because of alcoholism or substance abuse problems, it may change the course of how the divorce proceeds and impact things like child custody.

No-Fault vs. At-Fault Divorces

All states now allow for no-fault divorce grounds. In no-fault divorces, the suing partner needs to only state that irreconcilable differences prevent the couple from staying married. No fault needs to be stated or proved. This means the court isn’t going to judge either spouse’s actions when it comes to deciding a divorce, even if alcoholism is a factor.

Some states are no-fault jurisdictions, where that’s the only option: no fault is stated in the divorce petition.

No-Fault Only States
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • District of Columbia

The remaining 33 states allow the parties to either allege irreconcilable differences or to allege that the end of the marriage is the other party’s fault.

For example, Ohio and Oklahoma allow habitual drunkenness as a legal ground for divorce. Arkansas also allows drunkenness for one year or more as a legal ground for divorce. This mix of at-fault and no-fault grounds for divorce can be confusing. Because each state treats legal grounds for divorce differently and may use different wording, check the law in the state in which you or your spouse intend to file.

Proving Alcoholism in Divorce Court

When alcoholism is alleged in a divorce proceeding, it must also be proven. Proving spousal fault is always messy in divorce cases. Evidence of alcoholism and its impact on the marriage can be introduced via:

  • Direct testimony
  • Police reports
  • Accident reports
  • Rehab bills
  • Medical records
  • Court orders in DUI cases
  • Video footage

The other spouse then has the opportunity to rebut the evidence produced. This can turn a hearing into a matter of he-said, she-said, making court proceedings often long and costly.

When it comes to dividing marital assets, substance abuse is usually not relevant. However, it can be if the substance abuse pattern had a negative effect on assets or debt. For example, it may play a role if the alcoholic person accrued significant debt on a joint credit card to fund their substance abuse.

Alcoholism and Child Custody

Regardless of whether fault is specifically stated or not in the divorce petition, it is important to understand that alcoholism may be relevant to other issues, such as child custody and visitation.

Family court judges are governed by the best interests of the child when determining legal and physical custody of a child and when and how visitation should take place. Judges want to ensure that children are cared for and live in an environment that supports their health and safety. All states have statutes that govern what factors may be considered by a court when determining the best interests of the child.

Moderate drinking won’t necessarily impact custody, but courts do look at drinking levels, including alcoholism, that negatively impacts a parent’s ability to care for their children properly.

If one parent is an alcoholic or suffers from a substance abuse problem and it can be proven, winning child custodybecomes more difficult. They may be required to have only supervised visits or receive treatment for their addiction. Getting addiction treatment and achieving sobriety can also positively affect whether your children return or stay in a parent’s care.

The length of a person’s sobriety is also relevant. A long duration of sobriety makes it more likely that a parent will continue to remain sober and be able to care for their children.

Related: Does Going to Rehab Mean Losing Your Child?

Is Alcoholism Grounds For Annulment?

An annulment is different from a divorce: it is a legal decree that the marriage was invalid. It never occurred because an element needed to make the contractual agreement never happened. Grounds of civil annulment vary from state to state, but most include fraud, lack of consent and intoxication. Concealing an addiction or misrepresenting the level of an addiction may be grounds for annulment. Being intoxicated at the time of the marriage negates the ability to consent.

For example, Florida courts, which are not governed by a specific statute regarding annulments, decide cases of annulment based on prior cases or precedent. In Florida, intoxication is ground for annulment under prior case law.

If you are struggling with an alcohol addiction, getting addiction treatment may not impact your divorce proceedings, but it can change your life. You can start a healthier, alcohol-free life at The Recovery Village. Contact us to learn more about our alcohol detox and addiction treatment programs and enter the first stage of lifelong recovery.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Audrey Howitt, JD, LMFT
Audrey Howitt is a Marriage and Family Therapist licensed through the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Read more

Caces, M. F., Harford, T. C., Williams, G. D., & Hanna, E. Z.. “Alcohol consumption and divorce rates in the United States.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, September 1999. Accessed on September 9, 2021.

Ostermann, J., Sloan, F. A., & Taylor, D. H. “Heavy alcohol use and marital dissolution in the USA.” Social Science & Medicine, December 2005. Accessed on September 9, 2021.

The Law Dictionary, Black’s Law Dictionary. “ True vs. Optional No-Fault Divorce States.” Accessed on September 9, 2021.

Oklahoma State Courts Network (OSCN). “Ok. Stat. Tit. 43 Sec 101.” Accessed on September 9, 2021.

Arkansas Code. A.C.A Sec 9-12-301. “Grounds For Divorce.” Accessed on September 9, 2021.

Ohio Revised Code, Tit 31, Sec. 3105.01. “Divorce Causes.” Accessed on September 9, 2021.

U.S. Children’s Bureau. “Determining the Best Interests of the Child.” Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2020. Accessed on September 11, 2021.

American Bar Association. “Determining Alcohol Abuse in Child Custody Cases,” July 28, 2020. Accessed on September 11, 2021.

FindLaw. “Annulments-Overview.” October 9, 2018. Accessed on September 11, 2021.

FindLaw. “ Florida Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws.” June 20, 2016. Accessed on September 11, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.