Navigating Divorce and Substance Abuse: Creating a Safe and Effective Parenting Plan

Posted by Erin Birt | Jun 04, 2024 | 0 Comments

Navigating Divorce and Substance Abuse: Creating a Safe and Effective Parenting Plan

Divorce is always challenging, but when substance abuse is a factor, it adds layers of complexity and stress. At the Restorative Divorce podcast, we discussed the critical issue of alcohol abuse in marriages and the risks of divorcing too quickly when addiction is present. Today, we'll explore how to create a parenting plan that ensures the safety and well-being of your children while addressing the unique challenges of substance abuse.

Understanding the Impact of Substance Abuse on Divorce

When alcohol abuse or addiction is involved, it's essential to understand the stages of change that individuals and families go through. As we highlighted in our podcast, these stages include precontemplation, contemplation, determination, action, and maintenance. Recognizing these stages can help you navigate the ups and downs of both the divorce process and substance abuse recovery.

Stages of Change in Substance Abuse and Divorce:

  1. Precontemplation: Not yet acknowledging a problem.
  2. Contemplation: Recognizing the issue and considering action.
  3. Determination: Preparing to take steps toward change.
  4. Action: Actively working on recovery and divorce planning.
  5. Maintenance: Sustaining long-term change and stability.

Understanding these stages can help set realistic expectations for the divorce process, particularly when it comes to creating a stable environment for your children.

Stress and the Stages of Change in Divorce

Even if substance abuse is not a factor in your divorce, the stress caused by the divorce process itself can mimic these stages of change. The emotional and psychological impact of ending a marriage can lead to a similar progression of denial, contemplation, preparation, action, and adjustment. Recognizing this parallel can help you avoid rushing through the divorce process and ending up with a less favorable outcome.

Risks and Resources in Divorcing with Alcohol Abuse

Risks to Consider:

  • Safety: Ensure the safety of yourself and your children. Assess the risk of unpredictable behavior and impaired judgment due to substance abuse.
  • Asset Dissipation: Be aware of financial risks, such as spending on alcohol or related activities, which can deplete marital assets.
  • Legal Complications: Substance abuse can affect the ability to negotiate fair agreements and can be used as a ground for challenging the validity of divorce settlements.

Resources to Help Stabilize the Situation:

  • Counseling: Individual and family counseling can provide crucial support. Look for counselors with a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counseling (CADC) credential.
  • Support Groups: Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon offer valuable support networks for individuals and families affected by alcohol abuse.
  • Legal Support: Engage an attorney with experience in both family law and substance abuse issues to ensure all aspects of the situation are addressed comprehensively.

Creating a Parenting Plan with Substance Abuse Concerns

When alcohol abuse is a factor, developing a parenting plan requires careful consideration of the children's safety and stability. Here are some key elements to include that our office will help you craft:

  1. Supervised Visitation: If one parent struggles with substance abuse, supervised visitation may be necessary to ensure the children's safety. This can be arranged through family members, professional supervisors, or supervised visitation centers.

  2. Clear Guidelines for Sobriety: Outline specific requirements for sobriety during visitation times. This can include regular drug and alcohol testing, attending recovery programs, and maintaining a sober living environment.

  3. Communication Protocols: Establish clear communication protocols to manage interactions between parents. Use tools like parenting apps or neutral third parties to facilitate communication and exchange of information about the children.

  4. Emergency Procedures: Detail steps to take if the parent with substance abuse issues relapses or poses a risk to the children. This can include temporary suspension of visitation rights and immediate notification to the other parent or authorities.

  5. Flexibility and Review: Acknowledge that the situation may change as the parent in recovery progresses. Include provisions for regular review and modification of the parenting plan to adapt to changes in circumstances and ensure the children's ongoing safety and well-being.

Applying Stages of Change Principles to Divorce

Even in the absence of substance abuse, applying the stages of change principles to your divorce process can help you avoid rushing into decisions and ensure a more thoughtful and favorable outcome. Recognizing that the stress of divorce can cause emotional highs and lows similar to those experienced in addiction recovery can guide you in making more measured and stable decisions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Precontemplation: Accept that you might not fully understand the implications of your divorce yet.
  • Contemplation: Consider all your options and seek information.
  • Determination: Plan your steps carefully with professional guidance.
  • Action: Implement your plan while remaining flexible to adjust as needed.
  • Maintenance: Focus on long-term stability and well-being for you and your children.


Navigating a divorce involving substance abuse requires careful planning, patience, and the right support. By understanding the stages of change, recognizing the risks, and utilizing available resources, you can create a parenting plan that prioritizes the safety and stability of your children. Remember, every family's journey is unique, and it's crucial to tailor your approach to meet your specific needs and circumstances.

For more information on creating effective parenting plans and other resources, contact our office to schedule a free 15 min introductory call. Together, we can work on a Restorative Divorce and balanced outcome for your family.

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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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