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Keeping Kids Out of the Middle

Divorce and Addiction – 3 Tips for Families

What if a couple struggling with addiction issues decides that divorce is necessary for their family?

Once the decision to divorce is made, the focus shifts away from working on marital issues – the couple is no longer trying to fix the marriage.  Instead, the focus is on the present and future – on solutions which will help the family be successful in two homes.

If a family could not succeed in one home, how can it expect to do better in two homes?  Surprisingly, long term studies of divorcing families have shown that a surprising number of parents who struggled to be fully engaged with the children in an intact family did substantially better in two homes.  In one study, 80% of the children reported after a period of years that they felt the divorce had been a good idea, and that they actually had better relationships with their parents as individuals after the divorce (especially, they reported better relationships with their fathers).  Both parents had more “space” for their separate parenting.

But what about special concerns over addiction issues?  Here are 3 tips for addressing some of the most common issues faced by divorcing families struggling with addiction issues:

  1. Own your truth. Get the personal therapeutic help you need to make certain you have recovered your own sense of truth and are comfortable and confident in it.  When living with an addict, it is very easy to lose this truth – almost unaware – and it is very important to get it back as you work toward making agreements in the divorce process.  This is one of those times in life in which you need to be making the best decisions of your life.  It’s not easy, but letting go of past lies and deception and embracing what you know to be true for yourself and your children is critical.   Help can come from local support groups within Alcoholics Anonymous, Alanon, Alateen, and through individual or family therapy with professionals who have special training and experience in this area.
  1. Use a Parenting Plan. It’s possible to avoid “custody wars” in the State of Minnesota and some other states by simply creating a highly detailed Parenting Plan, which is filed with the Court and becomes fully enforceable by law.  The non-using spouse can take a greater share of responsibility for making medical decisions, transportation, religious upbringing or other parenting tasks, and the parenting schedule need not adhere to a strict 50/50 time sharing model.   There is no need for one parent to “lose custody” in order for the other parent to have a greater share of responsibility for the children.  Consequences for using mood altering substances before or during parenting time can be negotiated up front, and can include supervised parenting in the home of trusted relatives, addiction assessment or treatment, etc.  Electronic protections can be set up to protect children from process addiction problems (such as media controls or restrictions).  These electronic protections are especially important if there is good reason to believe that sexual addiction issues are present.
  1. Future Recovery Treatment. If treatment for meaningful recovery cannot be started during the Collaborative Team Divorce process, leave open the possibility in the final agreements and Parenting Plan for this to happen in future.  The cost of effective treatment may not be as great as you think (see The Retreat website at:   org).