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When Addiction Leads to Divorce


There are myriad reasons why people divorce. Maybe one spouse – or both – cheats. Perhaps the couple grows apart due to demanding careers. Money management may be an issue. They may discover they have wildly different views on religion, politics, or children – including whether or not to have any offspring and how to parent them if they do. Or, a married couple may decide that they are simply incompatible. All of these issues are commonly stated as the reason for divorce. With the exception of infidelity, few have a stigma attached.

But one reason for seeking a divorce that is not always openly discussed is addiction. And yet, addictions – both substance and behavioral – can put a tremendous strain on a marriage. When both spouses are struggling with addiction in any form the relationship may become co-dependent and spiral out of control. On the other hand, if only one spouse has an addiction, their choices and behavior can still hurt their partner and cause irreparable damage to the marriage.


There is more than one type of addiction

When we hear the word addiction, we typically think of substance abuse first – and with good reason. According to a study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 19 million Americans aged 12 and older battled a substance use disorder in 2017. While alcohol addiction and drug addiction, which may include both illegal and legal prescription drugs, are the most common types of addiction, they are not the only ones.

An addiction is when a person is unable to stop a certain behavior despite it being harmful to them or to those around them. Other common addictions include sex, pornography, shopping, gambling, gaming, social media use, and exercise.

How does addiction hurt a marriage?

Addiction can take a serious toll on a marriage and it does so in a variety of ways. For starters, addicts tend to keep secrets, and secrets often require lying.

Depending on the type of addiction and the severity, it may place a financial burden on the couple. Addicts may have a difficult time getting and keeping jobs. But it does not stop there. A spouse with a gambling addiction, for instance, could lose the couple’s savings and jeopardize their living situation. Someone with an addiction to alcohol or drugs may spend increasing amounts of money to obtain the substance of their choice, with little cash left over to pay household bills. The same can happen when a spouse has a shopping addiction.

An addiction to sex or pornography may lead to infidelity. It can also put the health of the non-addicted spouse at risk if the couple still engages in sexual activity with one another.

If nothing else, addiction steals time and attention away from the relationship. Rather than spending quality time together as a couple, the spouse who is an addict is focused on feeding that addiction – or hiding it. Lost time is a particularly significant problem for people who are addicted to gaming or exercise or social media. While each of these addictions may lead to other health issues, the time and attention they take from the marriage can be real problem and is often an early sign of trouble.

Being married to someone who is in the throes of an addiction can wreak havoc on one’s emotional, mental, and physical health. When one partner is an addict, the burden of keeping the household together typically falls on the other spouse. This can put tremendous pressure on that spouse, as they have essentially lost their partner in many ways. To top it off, addiction carries a significant amount of shame with it, which often causes people to suffer alone rather than expose their spouse’s secret life. Yet another emotional burden the spouse of an addict must bear.

With all this, is it any wonder that addiction can ruin a marriage?

What affect can addiction have on a divorce?

When a marriage ends because of one spouse’s addiction, it may affect the divorce proceedings. This is particularly true when children are involved. The court must act in the best interest of the children at all times, especially when determining child custody agreements. This includes protecting them from a parent who is suffering from substance abuse or another addiction that may put the children in danger. A parent with an addiction may be initially awarded supervised visitation – at least until they get treatment for their addiction and can demonstrate that they are clean and sober.

If addiction is taking a toll on your marriage

The amount of damage that an addiction can inflict on a marriage is undeniable. If your spouse has an addiction that is affecting you and your relationship, it is important to know that help is available.

If you are considering divorce because of your spouse’s addiction to alcohol, drugs, or any other substance or behavior, it is crucial that you speak with an experienced New York City divorce attorney. The Manhattan divorce attorneys at Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein LLP will work with you to devise an effective divorce strategy based on your specific circumstances. Schedule a consultation today by calling us at (212) 466-6015 or filling out our contact form. We represent clients throughout New York City, Westchester, and Bergen County, NJ.