Habitual Drunkenness Can Be a Devastating Reason for Divorce Litigation
Written by: Mikaila Matt
In South Carolina, habitual drunkenness is one reason to seek a divorce. Habitual drunkenness is one of four fault grounds. The other fault grounds are adultery, physical cruelty, and desertion. S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-10 also provides a “no fault” ground for divorce: continuous separation for a period in excess of one year.
Why is it Hard to Divorce a Drunk?
Under South Carolina law, habitual drunkenness includes the excessive consumption of alcohol or narcotic drugs.
If the excessive use of alcohol or drugs led to the breakdown of your marriage, then you have probably experienced your spouse being irrational and unpredictable. When trying to divorce someone who is abusing alcohol or other substances, negotiations can be difficult and unproductive for the same reasons – what your spouse agrees to one day may not be the same the next day.
It can also be hard to disengage from wanting to take care of your spouse, and protect them, when they are reliant on alcohol or drugs. The desire to ensure their well being can make divorce all the more emotionally draining.
Helpful Evidence to Prove Habitual Drunkenness
One does not need a specific diagnosis of alcoholism or substance dependence for a divorce to be granted on the ground of habitual drunkenness. A spouse’s testimony that the abuse of alcohol or drugs led to the breakdown of the marriage is enough. See Lee v. Lee, 282 S.C. 76 (Ct. App. 1984). However, the excessive consumption of alcohol or use of narcotic drugs shouldn’t be used to prove a moral wrongdoing. Herbert v. Herbert, 260 S.C. 86 (1973).
When requesting a divorce based on the fault ground of habitual drunkenness the following may be helpful:
- Testimony that the abuse of alcohol or drugs led to the breakdown of the marriage
- The drinking or use of narcotic drugs occured at the time of filing for divorce
- Testimony on how much the individual drinks and how often
- A diagnosis of alcoholism
- Drug testing
- Criminal records related to drinking and/or drug use
- Treatment for drink and/or drug use
A Benefit of Filing for Divorce on a Fault Ground
As provided by S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-80, the fastest way to get divorced is to file on a fault ground, which allows a Family Court judge to grant the divorce as early as three months after you file.
However, it is rare for a divorce to be granted so quickly because all of the other issues related to dissolving the marriage – such as division of assets and debts, alimony, child custody, and child support – typically must be resolved before a Family Court judge will grant a divorce.
Risks of Filing for Divorce on a Fault Ground
Though seeking a divorce on a fault ground may be an option based on your situation, it may not be the best choice.
In some cases, you might suspect your client is abusing alcohol or committing adultery but not yet be able to prove it. Then, filing for divorce on a fault ground could be premature and serve only to give your spouse notice of your suspicions, allowing them to better hide their misconduct.
In other cases, depending on your spouse’s personality, seeking a divorce on a fault ground may make your case harder to resolve. For example, a spouse who is accused of habitual drunkenness may feel ashamed and angry, and he may want to lash out in response, which could result in unnecessary litigation and attorney’s fees. Sometimes, avoiding an allegation of fault can make negotiations go more smoothly.
How to Decide Whether to File for a No-Fault Divorce
Even if you decide not to file for divorce on a fault ground, you do not have to wait a year to seek assistance from the Family Court. Instead, you can file a separate support and maintenance action (because South Carolina does not have legal separation). Or, you can amend or supplement your pleadings to request a divorce on a fault ground if you later decide doing so is in your interest.
A parties’ misconduct is often relevant for the division of assets, debts, alimony, and attorney’s fees, and you can make allegations of your spouse’s fault in causing the breakdown of your marriage as it relates to those issues.
Whether to file for divorce on the ground of habitual drunkenness or any other fault ground can be a complex decision. An experienced Family Court lawyer can help you consider all angles before choosing a strategy best suited to your goals.