Handling Alcohol Abuse In Divorce Mediation

Posted by Erin Birt | Jun 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

For divorcing families, the mediation process can be extremely helpful but also quite stressful. If anyone in the family struggles with alcohol abuse, they may manage their anxiety by coming to sessions under the influence–making the process more challenging for the mediator as well as the participants. This post will focus on handling alcohol abuse in Divorce Mediation.

Author and trained mediator Charlie Mulvey addresses this issue in a recent article on the site Mediate.com, suggesting that mediators should be able to screen participants prior to a session using a portable alcohol recognition device to ensure all parties are sober. This is particularly important when negotiating child custody and visitation.


Mulvey cites studies which show that separation or divorce rates are four times higher for alcoholics than for the general population, which means that at some point a mediator will be assisting a family struggling with this issue.

Research has also shown that alcoholism often equates with a higher rate of domestic abuse and violence, particularly with what Mulvey calls “high conflict couples” who struggle with any form of divorce mediation.

Screening for the presence of alcohol not only ensures more effective mediation but might also shine a light on domestic violence within the family. In addition, says Mulvey, it's “just plain common sense, both for your own protection and safety, as well as the successful operation of your mediation practice.”


There have been many iterations of the “breathalyzer,” a device that measures a person's blood alcohol content, but most were difficult to use and quite often inaccurate. Recently, the company Soberlink has developed a blood alcohol measuring device that is accurate, reliable and portable, making it a viable tool for family law mediators to perform DUI evaluations.

First, Soberlink can be used to confirm the sobriety of all mediation participants prior to the session. Perhaps an even more valuable use of Soberlink is to ensure child safety during visitation with the non-custodial parent.

Soberlink employs facial recognition to confirm the identity of the person using it, uses GPS to show the person's location, and transmits results to the other parent within 60 to 90 seconds by internet, text or email. In child custody situations, this can provide peace of mind regarding a child's safety during visitations and perhaps redevelop trust between the divorced parents, says Mulvey.

Finally, Mulvey states that “few investments in the family mediation arena have a higher potential for screening matters appropriate for mediation, providing safety and security, and ensuring a productive and successful mediation outcome for parents and children alike…”

As a trained mediator and licensed counselor for DUI risk education and treatment, I can help you successfully navigate a divorce process that involves alcohol abuse and/or domestic violence. Contact me to learn more.

About the Author

Erin Birt

Since 2003, Erin N. Birt, J.D., CADC has focused her practice on parenting time, divorce, mediation, and substance abuse issues. Ms. Birt's unique background in both family law and addictions counseling help her clients successfully navigate the complex issues of coparenting and divorce. Ms. Birt also devotes her time to presenting at continuing education seminars for attorneys, mediators, and counselors.


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