Episode 4 Transcript

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A Warning Sign You Might Be Divorcing Too Fast: Alcohol

In Episode 4 of our Restorative Divorce Podcast, we cover A Warning Sign You Might Be Divorcing Too Fast: Alcohol

TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 3, CLICK HERE.

In this podcast we cover a warning sign that you might be divorcing too fast: when alcohol abuse or addiction is a main concern.  We talk about ending a marriage when alcoholism or alcohol abuse is present.  Learn about the stages of change, risks to you and your divorce process, and resources to help stabilize the situation so you can move forward productively with your divorce and restore a safe environment for you and your children.

[00:02] Erin Birt: Hi, thanks for joining us for our fourth episode here at the Restorative Divorce podcast through The Law Firm if Erin N Birt PC (Birt Law). I'm Erin Birt I am an attorney mediator and I'm joined with my paralegal Tyler Burt today.

[00:16] Tyler Birt: Nice to talk to you again.

A Warning Sign You Might Be Divorcing Too Fast: Alcohol

[00:18] Erin Birt: Alright, so today we wanted to talk about ending a marriage when alcohol abuse or addiction is involved. It might also be a warning sign that you might be divorcing either too soon or too fast. So we thought it would be really interesting to discuss things that you can either expect or that you might go through if you are ending a marriage where alcohol abuse or addiction is present. Today we're going to highlight the stages of change that you or your family might go through some risks to be aware of and some resources that hopefully can help stabilize the situation to allow the divorce to move forward.

[00:59] Tyler Birt: Sounds good.

[01:01] Erin Birt: Tyler, just in our past and our history, do you think that alcohol has influenced people's divorce process?

[01:09] Tyler Birt: Yes, very much so. Alcohol and substance abuse is a very serious thing and it causes a lot of stress within the family when somebody is in the midst of the abuse itself, there are highs and lows in the family, including spouses. And extended family and children especially, have to deal with those highs and lows. So yes, we've dealt with it in our firm and our past clients and it's a big issue.

[01:52] Erin Birt: Yeah. And it's not only, unfortunately, a bumpy road within the family dynamic, it's a bumpy road for the divorce process because the spouse that isn't abusing alcohol, but lives with the person that is, is experiencing those highs and lows within their family relationship.

Divorcing with Alcohol Abuse: Highs and Lows

If you start the divorce process, you're going to have some highs and lows in that process as well. And knowing that that behavior that you've experienced, for maybe a long time within your family, is going to also play out during the divorce process can help set some expectations for how to handle those highs and lows in your divorce process.

[02:39] Tyler Birt: I think we should mention your background. You're not just an attorney, you're also a certified addiction counselor. So that is a benefit. You have a lot of insight into handling people with addictions, no?

[02:57] Erin Birt: Yeah, I appreciate that. Thank you. I met somebody for coffee yesterday and we were just talking a little bit about why I have a CADC, a certified alcohol and drug counseling degree and I was a divorce attorney before I went back to school. And one of my motivators for doing that was experiencing a lot of families under a tremendous amount of stress that they were either coping with alcohol or the other party was coping with alcohol or they were addicted to alcohol. I saw that trend over and over again. And it was one of my motivations to go back to school, to learn more about it, to help the families, the divorcing families, that I work with… and to also understand better the process that somebody either with an active addiction or active abuse issues or somebody in recovery goes through to learn how to better help the situation as a divorce professional and maybe understand better, or predict better, the ups and downs; but also then be supportive of my client if they have alcohol problems or be supportive of a spouse that is living with that stressor and also working with our office.

I used to have a DUI counseling business where we actually had risk education courses. We did outpatient counseling for substance abuse issues and that just tremendously helped in handling divorce cases. There are a lot of parallels, I think that somebody contemplating making a change with their substance use, they go through almost the same stages of change that somebody contemplating needing a divorce goes through.

Divorcing with Alcohol Abuse: Stages of Change

In our industry, I think it's known, that for somebody to actually call a divorce law firm, they've gone through a lot of thought and a lot of different stages of analysis before they've actually made that decision to talk to a divorce attorney. And that is the same, whether knowing or unknowingly, that a person goes through when they are realizing that their substance use is affecting themselves or other people and they don't know what to do about it. And so both stressful activities, divorce and alcohol abuse, a lot of people might not realize they need to change anything. They might not realize their marriage is changing. They might not realize that their substance use is causing a problem. And that's usually where they're in that what's called precontemplation phase, where they don't really need to change anything. But at some point things come to a head, either people start realizing maybe this is beyond me, and they start maybe doing some research, they start contemplating what they're going to do and maybe they're looking into things online as to what they can do. And again, there's a parallel - people that are like “wow, am I drinking too much?” Might be googling, “am I drinking too much?” and reading about that and another person who might be saying “I don't know if his marriage is working, why do people divorce?” They might be googling that.

They're in that stage of “they haven't yet opened their world to somebody else”, but they're contemplating something might be amiss here, at some point they may make a determination that there is an issue divorce related, there's an issue in my family, substance abuse related, maybe “I've had some really hard times here and I'm recognizing I've got to change”. And so they make a determination and come up with some strategies for how they're going to change and take some action. And then you will see people actually reaching out and talking to others or being open to hearing from others that hey, “some changes need to be made here”.

And so then they go into an action stage where they're reaching out, they're calling our office, or somebody is talking to them pretty frankly about, “hey, maybe there's somebody out there to speak to” and maybe they're either exploring a twelve step program or they're talking to a counselor.

But it's that action stage that I think a lot of movement happens and that adds a lot more stress too. And it's not linear. It's important to know that these stages of change do not go from recognizing a problem all the way to action. It can vary. You can go back and forth and it's those highs and lows that you've experienced when you weren't working on an issue. Those highs and lows follow you even sometimes if you already determine and trying to take a step forward. You might go back and you might say, “this isn't for me, I don't want to do this”. And so those are those highs and lows that my clients should expect in a divorce process. We might make some progress forward. We might go back. That is the nature of substance abuse, that is the nature of addiction and it's often the nature of divorce.

We go forward, we go back. Ultimately we're trying to get this done and have everybody in a better spot than they were before. So just recognizing the stages of change and the similarities between alcohol abuse stages of change and deciding if you're going to divorce is important for people to know. Your process maybe shouldn't go extremely fast, it might go slower than other people's, but there's reasons for it and we're here to support you through those stages of change.

[09:11] Tyler Birt: I think we've said it before, every case is different, every family is different, every situation is different. There are similarities. But when we say you can't rely on what your friend says about how their divorce went, it's because everybody is different.

[09:28] Erin Birt: Right.

[09:28] Tyler Birt: We understand that and work in your situation.

Risks when Divorcing with Alcohol Abuse

[09:32] Erin Birt: Yeah. What do you think are some risks? If you're either so stressed out you're incapable of understanding these stages of change, you want to move forward as quickly as possible, or maybe you just don't understand what's going on and you're so stressed out that you don't even know if you want to help somebody deal with substance abuse or you want to divorce. What are some risks that people should be aware of?

[10:01] Tyler Birt: What are they?

Divorcing with Alcohol Abuse: Safety Risk

[10:02] Erin Birt: Well, I'm thinking some of your risks are safety. I mean, that's number one. Whether you're divorcing or not, you always have to assess your safety. Are your children safe? Are you safe? Are your assets safe? Because substance abuse is very unpredictable and you don't really know if it's a “good day, bad day”. You don't know if somebody's functioning while still inebriated. And so there's issues of trust, there's issues of safety. And if you don't proceed with trying to find some resources to help your family as a whole, I think you're putting your children at risk for an accident or not being properly monitored or parented and you put yourself at risk. Fights can escalate pretty quickly and you just have to make sure that you might not want to address the situation. But it really is important to try to address the situation, I believe, either while you're doing your divorce planning or before you file for divorce.

Divorcing with Alcohol Abuse: Wasting Assets

If everybody's safe, I think another risk you have is wasting assets. And when I say wasting assets, it's a concept of dissipation in the divorce world - that's somebody wasting assets on things that are not helping your family; and alcohol or drugs or spending an inordinate amount of time socializing or going to a bar or just depleting your assets to purchase things to assist you with your abuse or addiction can be dissipation. That's a huge risk that if you're not addressing the issue, that can continue to go on.

[12:03] Tyler Birt: Can go quickly in the lows of an addiction. Alcohol abuse, I mean, the financial assets can move pretty quick, so it's good to be aware and on top of it as you're planning into your action plan.

[12:26] Erin Birt: Right. And it might be that the person doesn't even realize that they're wasting assets. They're so deep in their addiction that they're not focusing on what are the risks, what are the hardships that my addiction is costing us?

[12:44] Tyler Birt: Right. I think alcohol abuse is probably the hardest one to realize that assets are being depleted. Right? Substance abuse pretty straightforward. There's money going to illicit drugs or whatever, gambling addictions. Right? But alcohol, it's socially acceptable, it's readily everywhere. And so it's not as easy. It can be hidden more especially from the alcoholic or the person currently in the midst of their addiction because you can buy alcohol anywhere. So as professionals, right, we need to look at statements and try to determine if something is from the grocery store, well, was that groceries or was that something else?

[13:37] Erin Birt: And people get really clever in their addiction as to how they source their substance. They might be going to Walgreens all of the time thinking that their statements just saying they're picking up odds and ends at Walgreens, and it's not. So it definitely has an extra layer of awareness and investigation and analysis.

Divorcing with Alcohol Abuse: Legal Risk

I think another risk that you face if you're not going to be able to or not willing to address alcohol abuse in your family is: that person's functioning level. They might be going to work, they might be full time employees, they might be coaching their kids, they might be doing a lot of things while still functioning with substance abuse or substance addiction. And on the legal side of it, we have to think, does that addiction, if we know about it, influence whether they can negotiate a parenting plan or a financial settlement, are they able to sign an agreement to finalize your case? And so screening for substance use issues and addiction in a legal environment is very important. Something that can help you is if they hire an attorney, it does shift that burden to that attorney making the determination as to whether that client can enter into agreements. It gets really hard because a lot of people, that their marriage is failing due to substance abuse, they might not have a lot of money and they're hoping to get this done with one attorney or on their own. That's extremely risky because you might end up with what you think is a finalization of your divorce and if the person that was suffering from the addiction comes back and says, “I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't, I was not having the capacity to sign that agreement”, that's risky. It's very risky.

[15:36] Tyler Birt: It's a big risk.

Resources to Help Stabilize Divorcing with Alcohol Abuse

[15:38] Erin Birt: So why don't we talk a little bit about how we can help clients stabilize the situation so that they can start divorce planning. Maybe some resources out there to allow a divorce to move forward, but also provide help for everybody in the family.

[15:56] Tyler Birt: Support.

[15:57] Erin Birt: Yeah, support is number one. Right. And there's many different kinds of support. What do you think is helpful for somebody?

[16:07] Tyler Birt: There's a few. There are different options. Obviously counseling, both individual counseling. Obviously, if you're not the one with the addiction or alcohol abuse, even if you're not the one with the problem individual counseling can be very helpful. You can make that decision to go. You can't make your spouse or significant other, you can't make them do individual counseling. But family counseling as a family going to counseling, that can be very beneficial.

[16:47] Erin Birt: Yeah. And look for somebody that has a designation as a CADC or higher because they will have the education, experience and background to help with many issues, including substance abuse and substance addiction.

[17:02] Tyler Birt: That's a good point.

[17:03] Erin Birt: I think family also. You can rely on them for additional support, whether that just to be emotional support or financial support. But know, you can't always drain or expect family to be there, so professional help is really helpful. And there are free options out there. There's twelve step programs.

[17:26] Tyler Birt: Yeah. Twelve step programs for alcohol, for addictions, for the family members. Obviously, there's AA.There's Narcotics Anonymous on the substance abuse side. Al-anon is the twelve step program for the family members of the alcoholic or substance abuse person. And those programs can be very beneficial to all involved depending on what capacity you need them for.

[18:01] Erin Birt: Yeah. And the twelve step program, not only do you get education, you get the benefit of hearing other people's stories and what they've been through. You get a sponsor. It's a built in support system that will help you or help the other person navigate divorce, navigate just the alcoholism or the addiction issue. And there are many other programs out there. There are non twelve step programs, there are non faith based programs. We'll cover those at a different podcast.

But in general, just knowing the stages of change, knowing your risks, knowing there are resources out there, individual counseling, as well as twelve step programs, can help with divorce. You can locate those online, AA even does programs online. Or you can look at your local hospital might have sessions for services for you to go to. So looking into those things, I think, can really help you understand when to divorce, how your divorce process is going to go, and that maybe you might be moving too fast. If we have some of these issues (discussed above), let's try to stabilize the situation for the health of everybody involved, and then your divorce process can move forward in a much better manner. And also you can be assured that when you are divorced, if you've taken some of these steps, you'll have got a valid, enforceable judgment. Thanks for joining us.

Contact us today to discuss your divorce plan if you feel the warning signs that you might be divorcing too fast due to Alcohol issues. We can help you overcome this obstacle and received the attention and care you need to restore your life after divorce. 

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