Substance Abuse Adds Complications to Divorce and Custody Issues

An obituary for a young man named Clay William Shephard went viral a couple of weeks ago; in it, his parents explain that they wish to reach anyone who has a substance abuse problem while there is still time for them to do something about it. According to one news source, thousands of people have left comments online in support of the Shephard family, sharing their own triumphs and sorrows about their families’ struggles with heroin and drug addiction, as well as their condolences.

Though the Shephard family lives in North Carolina, we here in Maryland have seen an uptick in the amount of heroin abusers making headlines as well. Addiction often plays a role in a couple’s decision to divorce, as well as the State’s decision to remove children from a home. Drugs ravage families in so many ways – and not all of them are able to offer the beacon of forgiveness and hope that the Shephards have.

The consequences of addiction

If you had told us that heroin addiction would be a genuine concern for our clients a mere 15 years ago, we would not have believed you. Now, it has become as possible (though perhaps still not as common) as alcohol or other types of substance addiction. It most keenly affects people who:

  • Are married to a user. As heroin has become more and more accessible – and less and less expensive – the number of people who find themselves married to users has increased. This has led to an increase of divorces in Maryland as one spouse refuses to stay married to an abuser who will not, or cannot, seek help.
  • Are faced with longrehabilitation programs. People who are undergoing treatment for serious drug addictions may not be allowed to visit with the loved ones right away. The distance can drive some marriages apart – especially if the abuse created rifts in the marriage to begin with.
  • Have children who are abusers. In some sad cases, couples with children who abuse drugs are pushed apart by how each side wishes to parent those children. Extreme life events, like dealing with the illness of addiction, can add undue stress to anyone’s life.
  • Must now raise their grandchildren, nieces, nephews or siblings. When your child, sibling or parent is an abuser, it can place the burden of parenting on you. In Maryland, there has been an increase in the number of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and older siblings seeking guardianship – and on occasion physical and legal custody – of the children of addicts. Sometimes these custody battles come out of fear of the children being neglected; in more tragic scenarios, the children have nowhere to go when their parents overdose on the drug.

Families deal with heartbreak every day. Sometimes it makes them stronger; sometimes it tears them apart. The most devastating part of a heroin addiction is how quickly it can start, and how quickly it can lead to a person’s untimely death.

Our hearts go out to the Shephard family, and to those families right here in Maryland who are facing their own personal hells. We hope that those who are dealing with addiction can find access to the treatment they need to live better, healthier and happier lives.

For more information about our family law services in Maryland, we invite you to visit Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC