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Updated on July 31, 2023
6 min read

Alcoholism and Divorce - Tips, Laws, Statistics, and Resources

Key Takeaways

  • Alcoholism may be grounds for an at-fault divorce or annulment
  • If it's a factor in your relationship, be aware of your options, know your resources, and take steps to protect yourself and your children
  • Alcoholism is a serious condition, so seek professional help for your partner and get the support you need to cope
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Alcoholism and Divorce Statistics

Alcoholism isn't just a serious issue; it's also an underlying cause of divorce. Alcoholism divorce in the U.S. has been increasing over the last decade. It's responsible for nearly 50% of all separations.1

  • A spouse drinking more than one liter of liquor a day increases their chances of getting divorced by 20%.2
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the third most common cause of divorce in the U.S. for women and eighth for men.3
  • Forty-eight point three percent of people with AUD have been divorced at least once, compared to 30.1% of those without the condition.3
  • Spouses who are both alcoholics are less likely to get divorced (30%) than couples where only one partner has AUD (50%).4
  • Substance abuse affects marriage satisfaction and contributes to domestic violence, creating a hostile environment that often leads to divorce.4 
alcoholism and divorce statistics

Laws about Alcoholism and Divorce

No-Fault vs. At-Fault Divorces

No-fault divorces allow couples to separate without proving that one spouse did something wrong. Instead, they can base their divorce on incompatibility or simply no longer wanting to stay married. In this case, the court won't consider AUD grounds for separation.

All states today allow no-fault divorces. However, some jurisdictions require couples to live apart for a predetermined time before granting it.

In contrast, at-fault divorces require one spouse to prove that the other caused unrepairable harm to their marriage. The grounds for such separations vary from state to state, but the most common ones are:5

  • Adultery
  • Sexual incompetence
  • Imprisonment
  • Insanity
  • Cruelty

You can use substance abuse as grounds for an at-fault divorce. About two-thirds of states grant this separation, so check your local laws.

How to Prove Your Partner is an Alcoholic

If liquor addiction is a factor in your divorce, you must prove it in court. The best way to do so is by submitting concrete, irrefutable evidence. Otherwise, the judge might dismiss your case or grant your spouse a more favorable settlement.

You can gather evidence in various ways:6

  • Witness testimony: Family and friends' statements about your spouse's AUD. You can also use the testimonies of social workers, counselors, law enforcers, and medical experts that your legal counsel can get through a subpoena.
  • Documents: Alcoholism counseling sessions, Alcoholics Anonymous chips or meeting documents, police reports and arrest records, hospital admissions, and other related papers attesting to your partner's AUD.
  • Material evidence: Photos, videos, or other physical proof of your spouse's liquor addiction.
  • Purchase records: Any documentation showing your partner buying liquor, such as receipts and credit card statements.
  • Emails, texts, and other communications: Digital footprints that reveal your spouse's drunken behavior. Conversations where you attempt to resolve or address the problem, drinking binges, or alcohol-related incidents with them also count.
  • Your deposition: Your sworn statement outlining your experience with AUD in the marriage. You can detail your partner's behavior and its effect on you, your children, and other family members here.

You can also request a court-ordered psychological test if you can't collect enough proof. It will help confirm your partner's AUD status, which you can use as evidence in court for your divorce case.

Alcoholism and Child Custody

Court-ordered psychological examinations play a vital role in alcoholism divorces. That's especially true when child custody is involved.7

Under Family Code section 3011(d), courts consider AUD in determining children's best interests in a custody case. They evaluate either parents' "habitual or continual abuse of alcohol" in assessing their ability to care for them.

Depending on the situation, the court may grant partial or supervised custody if liquor is present. It can also adjust a parenting plan for the children's best interests.

Is Alcoholism Grounds For Annulment?

An annulment erases a marriage as if it never happened. That's how it differs from a divorce, which terminates an existing relationship.

Annulments give both parties a legally fresh start after "hitting reset" on what was never a valid union. Its most common grounds are:

  • Bigamy
  • Incest
  • Lack of consent
  • Fraud
  • Lack of capacity to consummate
  • Force
  • Insanity

With states offering no-fault divorces, substance abuse is rarely a basis for annulment. That's because alcohol addiction doesn't make a marriage invalid.

Alcoholism is usually a problem that gets worse over time. Courts also don't consider it an immediate barrier to a union. Thus, AUD is more likely to be grounds for an at-fault divorce.8

Still, you can file for annulment because of AUD. If you feel that it played a major role in the failure of your marriage, speak with an attorney to learn more about your options.

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Tips for Dealing with an Alcoholic Partner

There are certain steps to protect yourself and your children if you're dealing with a spouse with alcohol addiction. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Create a safe environment: Substance abuse can lead to episodes of violence or aggression. Take steps to ensure your and your children's safety in such situations, like alerting local law enforcement and creating a safety plan to minimize risk.
  2. Encourage them to get help: AUD is a treatable condition, so motivate your partner to seek professional help if they're ready and willing.
  3. Educate yourself: Liquor addiction is a complex disorder, and it's important to understand how it affects your partner. Read up on the subject to better understand the condition to help you better support them.
  4. Get support: Whether you seek help from family members, friends, or a support group for spouses of alcoholics, find people to talk to. Having someone to share your experiences with can be invaluable.
  5. Set boundaries: AUD can take a toll on relationships, so establish boundaries with your partner. That includes setting ground rules and expectations for their behavior and how you'll handle disagreements.

AUD hurts marriages. However, divorce isn't the only option if you deal with it in your relationship. But if such addiction has caused too much pain and problems, you can consider getting divorced or annulled to end your union.

Either way, consult with an experienced lawyer. They can assist you in the process, protect your rights, and even help you negotiate a fair settlement if necessary.

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Resources for Partners of Alcoholics

  1. SAMHSA: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides resources and information on AUD and treatment options.
  2. Al-Anon Family Groups: An international support group for family members of alcoholics. The website has resources, information, and a search tool to find a group in your area.
  3. SMART Recovery Family & Friends: Their unique blend of SMART Recovery techniques and CRAFT Therapy (Community Reinforcement & Family Training) helps the family and friends of addicts cope and recover.
  4. Nar-Anon Family Groups: A twelve-step program for families and friends of people struggling with AUD. Their spiritual approach encourages understanding and acceptance.
  5. Families Anonymous: Another twelve-step fellowship for family members and friends of people with liquor or drug addiction. They offer support at in-person meetings, online forums, and a helpline.
Updated on July 31, 2023
8 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Research Institute on Addictions, "RIA Reaching Others: Does Drinking Affect Marriage?" University at Buffalo, 2014.
  2. Cases, M. F., Harford, T. C., Williams, G. D., & Hanna, E. Z., "Alcohol consumption and divorce rates in the United States." National Library of Medicine - National Center for Biotechnology Information, n.d.
  3. Cranford, James. "​​DSM-IV Alcohol Dependence and Marital Dissolution: Evidence From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions." National Library of Medicine - National Center for Biotechnology Information, n.d.
  4. Research Institute on Addictions, "Heavy drinking is bad for marriage if one spouse drinks, but not both." University at Buffalo, 2013.
  5. Wex Definition Teams, "Fault Divorce." Cornell Law School - Legal Information Institute, 2021.
  6. Soberlink, American Bar Association, "Determining Alcohol Abuse in Child Custody Cases." American Bar Association, 2020.
  7. Cage & Miles, "Thinking About Divorcing an Alcoholic? Here's What You Need to Know." California Family Law Attorneys, 2021.
  8. American Bar Association, "Annulment." American Bar Association, 2020.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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