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When addiction or abuse allegations arise during a family law dispute

By Jaskiran Bajwa

There are many reasons why marriages fall apart. Working parents have the stress of their job weighing on them, compounded by the caregiver responsibility for their children. Faced with these pressures, some parents rely on alcohol, cannabis or prescription drugs. Habits form and people may not even realize they are addicted.

Once the marriage fails and if there are children involved, the former partners must reach a parenting agreement spelling out who has decision-making responsibility (formerly referred to as custody) and how the parenting time (formerly referred to as access) will be divided. Those discussions will be complicated if addiction or abuse allegations arise.

If these allegations can be proven, it can help the non-addicted parent in their legal struggles. But finding credible evidence to show addiction or abuse can be difficult, which is why parents in this situation need the assistance of an experienced family lawyer.

If your former partner is dealing with addiction issues or they are abusive – toward you, your children or others – it is likely you want sole decision-making responsibility, as well as the bulk of the parenting time.

While courts try to give children as much time as possible with each parent, there is no automatic presumption of equal parenting time. In all cases, the primary consideration is the best interest of the children, especially when it comes to their physical, emotional and psychological safety. A parent who is abusive or dealing with addiction issues will be a threat to them on all levels.

Substance abuse is common

If your partner has a substance abuse issue, that could be a key factor in your favour in determining parenting arrangements.

Substance abuse is quite common across the nation. According to Childhealthpolicy.ca, approximately one in 10 Canadian children under the age of 12 lives with a parent with a substance use disorder.

“Sadly, for many of these children, parental substance misuse is not the only hardship they face,” the website states. “Researchers who have tracked outcomes for children with substance-misusing parents over the long term (10 years or more) have found significantly greater risks for a wide range of adversities. These include poverty, parent and sibling criminal activity, other parental mental health problems, child maltreatment, foster care placements and even death.”

The group adds that “not all parents with substance misuse problems are abusive or neglectful. Rather, substance-misusing adults have been found to parent on a continuum – ranging from poor to satisfactory.”

According to addictionhelp.com, approximately 20 per cent of Canadians will meet the criteria for addiction in their lifetime. Alcohol is Canada’s most commonly abused drug, the website says, followed by cannabis, illegal drugs and then the misuse of prescription drugs.

If you believe your ex-spouse is abusing drugs or alcohol, you can request supervised visitations. Those will only be granted if you can prove your spouse’s dependency. With a so-called “functioning alcoholic” it may be difficult to prove if he or she is still keeping a job and providing for the children.

Many forms of spousal abuse

According to a government report, 44 per cent of women or 6.2 million women aged 15 and older have reported some kind of abuse in their intimate partner relationship. Every six days, a woman in Canada is murdered by her intimate partner and there are elevated risks of violence for women who may identify as Indigenous, visible minority, and LGBTQ+.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime defines spousal abuse as something that occurs in relationships that are romantic in nature and where when one partner seeks to dominate and exert power over the other.

“In doing so, the relationship often deteriorates and may become violent. Emotional, verbal, psychological, financial, physical and sexual abuse is common in such relationships,” the Centre states. “Although there are some studies that suggest men and women are both capable of violence, female victims suffer more physically, emotionally and financially from abuse. While the majority of men are not violent, some men have learned to express their anger or insecurity through violence.”

Spousal abuse can take many forms, including emotional, verbal, psychological, economic, sexual and physical.

“[Physical abuse] often begins with what is excused as trivial contact and behaviour such as threats, name-calling, violence in her presence (such as punching a fist through a wall), and/or damage to objects or pets,” the Centres states. “Battery often escalates into more frequent and serious attacks such as pushing, slapping, pinching, punching, kicking, biting, sexual assault, tripping, and throwing. Finally, it may become life-threatening with serious behaviours such as choking, breaking bones, or the use of weapons.”

Evidence is needed to prove addiction or abuse

Simply alleging that your ex-partner is a heavy drinker or that they abuse you is not enough for the court to deny someone their parenting rights. There must be evidence that shows that their behaviour will put your children’s safety and well-being at risk.Such evidence could include:

  • If they have been fired from jobs due to substance abuse.
  • A criminal record for impairment or drug use.
  • If they have been ordered to attend counselling for anger issues.
  • Hospital or emergency care records that show you suffered physically due to your partner’s behaviour.
  • Witness statements from family or friends that support your allegations about your partner’s addiction or abusive behaviour.

For more information on this topic read my blog post from last year, Proving Abuse or Addiction in a Marriage.

Contact us for assistance

Living with an addict or an abusive partner is detrimental to your marriage and your family life. If you need to leave the relationship but want to ensure your children’s best interests are not compromised, contact us for a free consultation to discuss the best way to move ahead.   

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