Addiction to drugs or alcohol is an illness that can destroy not only the health of the individual struggling with addiction but also their career, family, and marriage. In fact, drugs and alcohol are a factor in a substantial number of divorce cases. If you’re considering divorce due to your spouse’s addiction, you may wonder if you can list substance abuse as grounds for divorce and how the court evaluates the addiction during the divorce proceedings.  

Warwick RI Divorce Lawyer Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum

Annulment vs. Divorce

Under Rhode Island law, a marriage that ends in “annulment” never legally existed; whereas a “divorce” recognizes that two individuals were legally married for a period of time. There are only a few specific circumstances for which annulment is allowed in Rhode Island, but alcohol and drug abuse are not among them.

Fault vs. No-Fault Divorces

The State of Rhode Island allows for both “fault” and “no-fault” divorces. In a fault divorce, one of the spouses argues that the end of the marriage was caused by the behavior of the other spouse, making the dissolution of the marriage their fault. However, a no-fault divorce does not require one or the other marriage partners to assign or accept responsibility. Most frequently, no-fault divorces list irreconcilable differences as the reason the marriage is ending.

Alcohol and Drug Addiction and Fault Divorces

The Laws of Rhode Island do include “continued drunkenness” and “the habitual, excessive, and intemperate use of opium, morphine, and choral [and other drugs]” as legitimate grounds for a fault divorce (RI Gen L § 15-5-2 (2020)). For this reason, a wife or husband can hold their spouse responsible for the end of the marriage due to substance abuse.

A fault divorce can be an incredibly combative and stressful process during which each side often accuses the other of wrongdoing. This can result in a longer and more painful divorce process, after which the court will still need to hear arguments regarding financial support, child custody, and division of assets. Although this is certainly an option for spouses who can provide evidence of excessive suffering caused by their partner’s addiction, the decision to file an at-fault divorce should only be made after consulting and retaining an experienced and dedicated legal team.

Alcohol, Drug Addiction and No-Fault Divorces

Filing for a no-fault divorce is not the same as claiming that both parties are equally responsible for the end of the marriage. Nor does it mean that property, savings, or child-custody will automatically be split 50/50. Additionally, a no-fault divorce does not mean the pain and suffering caused by your spouse’s addiction will be ignored by the court.

There are many logical reasons to file for a no-fault divorce, even when your spouse’s addiction was the primary cause for the separation, including:

  • Fault divorces usually take longer to finalize than a no-fault divorce.
  • Because they take longer, fault divorces may be more expensive than no-fault divorces.
  • Fault divorces are usually far more contentious and stressful than no-fault divorces.
  • Because they can be so emotionally charged, fault divorces are often perceived as more traumatic to the children than a no-fault divorce.

Even if you file for a no-fault divorce, a judge may well consider your spouse’s addiction as relevant when determining separation of assets, financial support, and child custody. In this case, you will need to seek counsel from an attorney with a deep understanding of Rhode Island marital law and trial-tested experience in Rhode Island divorce court. Your attorney will advise you on when and how the substance abuse which contributed to the end of the marriage can be considered a factor in determining alimony, child support, and asset distribution.

Do You Need To Speak To A Rhode Island Divorce Attorney?

If you are considering a divorce you need to speak with an experienced Rhode Island divorce attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Warwick office directly at 401.946.3200 to schedule your free consultation. We help divorce clients in Providence, Warwick and all areas of Rhode Island.


Jesse Nason
Helping Rhode Island residents with all of their family law, divorce and child custody needs since 2006.