How To Prove Substance Abuse in Divorce Cases

person laying on the floor while drunk

Substance abuse can ruin a marriage and may threaten children and other family members. Heavy drinking and drug use are part of many divorce complaints. In a contested divorce in North Carolina, an individual may cite their spouse’s excessive alcohol or drug use as having made living together intolerable and life burdensome.

If your spouse’s drug or alcohol problem has contributed to the failure of your marriage, the experienced divorce attorneys at Charles R. Ullman & Associates in Raleigh can help you. We can establish your spouse’s abuse of drugs or alcohol and its detrimental effect on your life as part of your divorce filing and court presentation.

Attorney Charles R. Ullman is board-certified by the North Carolina State Bar as a specialist in family law. For more than 20 years, he has focused his practice on family law cases and guiding clients through the separation and divorce process.  To schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced family law attorney, call or fill out our online form.

Understanding Substance Abuse in Marriage and Divorce

Anyone who is dealing with a spouse who has a substance abuse problem knows the mess that substance abuse can make in the user’s life and the toll it can take on their loved ones. Substance abuse can have a negative impact on all facets of marital life, from the ability to work and provide for the family to relationships with children and issues of trust and intimacy between the spouses. Living with drug or alcohol abuse can take a huge toll on a marriage and a family.

The American Psychological Association says family members of individuals with addictive disorders experience increased prevalence of illness and domestic violence, in addition to deteriorated interpersonal functioning, including problems with social adjustment, relationships, family cohesion, stress, and in the case of children involved, behavior problems.

In one nine-year study, nearly half of couples in which one partner was a heavy drinker wound up divorcing. In another study, 35% of respondents cited substance abuse as a major contributor to their divorce.

North Carolina family law defines nine acts of “marital misconduct” that are grounds for divorce, including “Excessive use of alcohol or drugs so as to render the condition of the other spouse intolerable and life burdensome.” Another is “Indignities rendering the condition of the other spouse intolerable and life burdensome,” which are often an unfortunate consequence of life with a spouse who has a substance abuse disorder.

North Carolina allows married individuals to seek a court-ordered legal separation known as divorce from bed and board when a spouse is abusive, uncooperative with divorce proceedings, or cannot be located. Because a divorce from bed and board is used in cases of abuse, a prior year of separation is not required.

A legal separation order includes terms of a divorce, including orders for child custody, child support, alimony, distribution of marital assets, and payment of attorney’s fees. A divorce from bed and board may also be used to have a spouse with active substance abuse issues ordered out of the marital home.

After living apart for a year under a divorce from bed and board, either spouse may petition the court for a final order of absolute divorce.

Gathering Evidence of a Spouse’s Substance Abuse for a Divorce

Alcoholism and drug addiction are progressive diseases, meaning the impact they have on the user gets worse over time. If your spouse has been dealing with a substance abuse disorder long enough that you are ready to end your marriage, there is likely evidence of the harm done that can help you prove substance abuse in court.

To support your petition for a legal separation or divorce, we would work to gather such evidence of your spouse’s substance abuse as:

  • Arrest records for driving while impaired or criminal charges for possession of illicit drugs.
  • Records of court-ordered or voluntary counseling or treatment programs.
  • Work records, which may reflect random drug testing results and discipline for substance abuse, unexcused absence, or drinking on the job.
  • Medical records reflecting health provider assessments of substance abuse and related injuries. This might include records of injuries you or other family members suffered if your spouse gets violent when intoxicated.
  • Witness testimony, including your statement and statements from family, friends, and co-workers.

In this day of cellphone video cameras and social media, there may be visual evidence available of your spouse under the influence of excessive alcohol or drugs.

If your spouse engages in habitual or continual abuse of alcohol or drugs, a family law attorney can ask the court to order your spouse to take a drug test for illegal drugs, abuse of prescribed controlled substances, or alcohol intoxication. A judge can hand down such an order after hearing solid evidence of a history of substance abuse. If violence is the result from these habits, reach out to a domestic violence attorney.

Impact of Substance Abuse on Child Custody Decisions

When weighing decisions about child custody and child support, North Carolina family law judges are expected to base their decisions on what promotes the best interests and welfare of the child.

If you are able to prove your spouse’s active alcoholism or substance abuse in court, you should prevail in your request for custody of your children and child support. You should also be able to obtain orders for supervised visitation if and when your spouse sees your children.

In the worst-case scenario, in which your spouse’s substance abuse makes them a danger to your children, we can petition to have your former spouse’s parental rights terminated. This is a major step not to be taken lightly, but among the legal reasons for terminating someone’s parental rights (NCGS § 7B-1111(a)(6)) is “That the parent is incapable of providing for the proper care and supervision of the juvenile … and that there is a reasonable probability that the incapability will continue for the foreseeable future. Incapability … may be the result of substance abuse … .”

Talk with an Experienced Divorce Lawyer in North Carolina Today

Photo of family law attorney Charles R. UllmanIf your spouse’s drug abuse or alcohol addiction has made your life intolerable, and you have decided to end your marriage, contact a compassionate divorce attorney today. The experienced Raleigh, NC divorce attorneys at Charles R. Ullman & Associates are dedicated to helping you through the legal process of separation and divorce so you can move on to the next phase of your life. Our divorce attorneys focus solely on North Carolina family law issues.

Schedule a consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer by phoning (919) 829-1006 or filling out our online contact form.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.