Divorcing an alcoholic is never easy. Challenges can continue long after the divorce decree is issued. This is especially true if you have children. How can a person cope with alcoholism in a marriage? How do you know when it’s time to give up and seek a divorce? What is the best way to rely on your support network when you’re going through it?
In this episode of Divorce & Other Things You Can Handle, I speak with celebrity divorce attorney Stacy Phillips about her own personal experience with her ex-husband’s alcoholism and their divorce. In our discussion, we address the questions above and more in Stacy’s compelling retelling of her own experience of divorcing an alcoholic.
Alcoholism & Marriage
Stacy learned her ex was an alcoholic before they were married but he assured her the problem had been resolved and overcome. She believed him. But it was not the case.
Stacy’s husband began drinking again in secret before the marriage had resumed. He probably didn’t really understand that the problem was something he still needed to deal with. He chose to continue to drink and eventually died.
When Does Drinking Become an Issue That Warrants Divorce?
Stacy’s ex-husband was a “functional” alcoholic… until he wasn’t.
During their relationship they went through many actions to try and get him to stop drinking and work on his health issues.
“Learned Hopefulness” – Your spouse promises they will get better, you think they will, but they often don’t.
At some point you hopefully draw a line in the sand and say this is it. In domestic violence, it sometimes takes people many attempts to leave their abusive spouse. It can be similar to divorcing an alcoholic.
Is It Okay to Break Wedding Vows Due to Alcoholism?
Your spouse admitting they have alcohol issues is not enough. They need to take action and do something about it.
Often they will say their drinking is under control, but it isn’t.
You need a major support system to deal with alcoholism and addiction. The phrase “one day at a time” is really true because that’s what’s necessary to overcome the addiction.
Drinking problems can be invisible to the outside world – but they usually aren’t. Other people can sometimes see things you can’t when you’re in the middle of it.
Sometimes it takes a group intervention to make you realize your spouse still has a problem with alcoholism. Especially if you have trouble drawing lines in the sand.
Stacy needed her friends and family to help tell her when the drinking was still a problem and she couldn’t see it. And then to hold her to her line in the sand.
You don’t have to destroy yourself to help someone else. Sometimes you can’t save the person you love.
Dealing with Guilt
Stacy laid down a line in the sand – and her husband chose the bottle and left. She felt guilty – that she couldn’t solve the problem, or make him well. She felt like she had done something wrong.
She encourages her clients to get a therapist to work through these feelings of guilt. A therapist who specializes in addiction can be particularly helpful.
She realized that even though she loved her ex, Stacy was unable to save him from this disease or save the marriage.
Support from friends and family can be a balance. It is generally better not to talk too much about your divorce – that’s why you have your therapist and maybe a divorce coach. Things get around. Maybe share with your best friend only.
Use your support system to have fun and to help you re-enter the world. Don’t use them to discuss the process of divorce.
What To Do If You You Need to Get Divorce
If your spouse has a drinking problem and has had it for a long time, start meeting with a therapist. Take your power back. Then go meet with a divorce lawyer.
Knowledge is power: educate yourself on the process. It may take you a while to go through it but eventually you need to take action and actually start the divorce process.
It’s okay if you have to go back to the divorce attorney for multiple consultations weeks, months, even a year. It’s hard work and takes time to work through this challenge.
Divorcing an alcoholic can be particularly difficult when there are children involved. It can be hard to rely on the courts to take particular actions to protect your children. Some people will try to stay married as long as they can until it is no longer possible.
About Stacy Phillips
Stacy D. Phillips, a certified family law specialist and the author of “Divorce, It’s All About Control: How to Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars,” offers her insight, knowledge, and experience to support readers coping with divorce and avoiding common divorce battles. Jockeying for control is at the heart of most contentious divorces, and Ms. Phillips explains how to regain and maintain control throughout this stressful process.
Ms. Phillips is a Partner at Blank Rome LLP. She is a nationally recognized family law practitioner, handling primarily high-net-worth and high-profile divorce cases. She has guided clients through critical transitions in their lives for more than 36 years with experience in every facet of family law, including:
Complex divorce actions
High-conflict custody cases
Domestic violence cases
Same-sex divorce/dissolution matters
Pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements
Ms. Phillips is known for her skilled persuasion, adept negotiation, aggressive advocacy, and compassion in representing her clients, whether in litigation, mediation, or Collaborative Divorce. She is a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.
Ms. Phillips is a contributing writer, editorial consultant, or commentator for select legal and consumer publications, including:
California Family Law Monthly, 2006-2020
The Huffington Post: Divorce
Los Angeles Daily Journal
Los Angeles Business Journal
C-Suite Quarterly Magazine
Ms. Phillips is a sought-after commentator on matrimonial issues in the news, having appeared on numerous local and national radio and television shows including:
Mandy Walker is a divorce mediator and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® based in Boulder, Colorado. She works with individuals and couples helping them to end their relationships with dignity and respect, creating an understanding of the process and their options so they can feel confident in the decisions they’re making.