Once in while, I’m asked whether it’s possible to get a divorce based on the occasional use of drugs. South Carolina law seems very clear on this subject. S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-3-10 SECTION 20-3-10.
Grounds for divorce.
No divorce from the bonds of matrimony shall be granted except upon one or more of the following grounds, to wit: . . .
(4) Habitual drunkenness; provided, that this ground shall be construed to include habitual drunkenness caused by the use of any narcotic drug; . . .
Oh, except for the little problem of “habitual drunkenness.” Does that mean drinking every day or only on the weekends? How much – a six-pack after work or just one drink every day? And how does “drunkenness” related to getting high on drugs?
The courts have construed habitual drunkenness to be “the fixed habit of frequently getting drunk; but it does not necessarily imply continual drunkenness.” Rooney v. Rooney, 242 S.C. 503 (1963). In other words, if your spouse drinks to the point of drunkenness often but is not constantly drunk, you can get a divorce on this ground if you have witnesses or other supporting evidence. Testimony from your friends and neighbors, fellow employees or family members about seeing your spouse frequently drunk would support your contention, as would expensive bar tabs or liquor store bills, for example. Alcoholism as reported in medical records is a ground for divorce. Yates v. Yates, 2003 UP 00635 (Ct. App. 2003). In addition, the habit of drunkenness must exist at or near the time of filing for the divorce. Simonds v. Simonds, 229 S.C. 376 (1956), Lee v. Lee, 282 S.C. 76 (1984). You can’t divorce a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in years for habitual drunkenness, but you can divorce a drunk whose last binge was three weeks prior to filing based upon that habitual drunkenness.
But what about DRUGS? Turns out, it does not matter what you get “drunk” on. Just change the word “drunk” to read “intoxicated” or “high” and you get the same result for drug use. If you can establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that your spouse is habitually “high” on a drug, that is sufficient for the court to grant a divorce on this ground. Examples of evidence are successive failed drug tests, testimony of witnesses, and medical records showing treatment for drug addiction.
I do want to add a caveat to all this – courts don’t like it when one drug user points the finger of blame at another! If both parties have been using drugs (or getting drunk) together, it creates another set of issues for the court to determine. More about that another time.
Recreational drug use, that is the very occasional use of drugs such as marijuana, will not meet the standard for habitual drug use (neither will occasional drinking.) Of course, as you might guess, the dispute between the parties will be centered around the difference between occasional and habitual use. Some courts have found that any use that has lead to the degradation of the marital relationship is habitual use, at least as far at that particular marriage is concerned. If you are concerned about drug use or alcoholism and its effects on your marriage or children, consult an experienced attorney for advice.