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Addictions: The most challenging reason for divorce

Addictions: The most challenging reason for divorce

Of all the causes of separation and divorce, none is more challenging than a parent who suffers from addiction.

Whether it be a drug, alcohol, gambling or sex addiction, the one truth that emanates from the many allegations and denials is the need of a child to maintain a relationship with her parent. Of course, this is conditional on that relationship being stable, regular and safe.

To adequately answer the question of whether an addiction offers valid grounds for divorce, important questions have to be answered:

  1. How can lawyers and mental health professionals serving a client who suffers from an addiction while balancing the rights and needs of the children and their parents?  
  2. What is the tipping point for when a child’s relationship with her parent be severed and, if so, is it permanent?  
  3. If the relationship is to continue what are the considerations, factors and safeguards that must be installed to ensure that the child’s physical and emotional needs are met? 
  4. What is the role of expert testimony, addictions counsellors, family physicians, children’s teachers, etc. in formulating a holistic understanding of the family unit?  
  5. Should the child have a voice and, if so, does this involve the children’s lawyer? 
  6. What steps should counsel take in managing a family’s separation that centers around an addiction?  
  7. Does this involve emergency safety orders, referrals to counselling and rehabilitation, accountability (recovery bracelet, random drug testing, hair follicle testing, breathalyzer)?  
  8. What is the role of CAS?  
  9. Is it a child protection matter or a domestic matter?  
  10. Should counsel ask for a case management judge as opposed to risking a revolving door of justice?  
  11. What is the impact of the children's ages and their level of knowledge of the problem on this analysis?  
  12. Does counsel manage the case differently if the addict admits to the problem versus maintains a bold denial?  
  13. What are the differing legal tests depending on whether the issue is fresh, or occurs following an existing court order or separation agreement?  
  14. The corollary is when the original order or agreement was predicated on a known addiction, what is the legal test to changing a pre-existing access schedule that was made at the time of addiction? 
  15. Is an addiction a disability and, if so, can that disability be used as grounds to deny a parent-child relationship? 
  16. Is an addiction a lifelong sentence?  
  17. Is supervised access, telephone or Skype access an adequate safeguard? 
  18. Does it matter if the client has a binge addiction versus a continuous addiction? 
  19. What is the role of the status quo and does that trump the child's relationship with her parent? 

Addictions can place extraordinary strain on marriages and relationships. Helping a client decide whether it is in their children and their own best interests to seek separation from a spouse struggling with addiction is an equally challenging task for careful consideration is required.

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