Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
Question: For most of our married life (27 years), my husband has been what I call a “closet drunk.” In the early days, he would work during the day, come home, and drink a beer or two. As time went on, he would sit in front of the television and drink more beer until he would pass out, stay there all night, not eat, wake up in the morning, shower, eat breakfast, and go to work. He brings two six-packs of beer home with him each night except Friday when he brings home two cases for the weekend. He pays cash. On weekends, he drinks most of Saturday and part of Sunday and sleeps the rest of the time. We seldom go out. This habit has continued for 20 years, and I am sick of it. Our two children are married and live in other states. Neither will come home and visit for more than a few hours, and neither wants to get involved.
I have worked both in the home and full time outside the home during the entire marriage. My life has been wasted with this man. I have no friends and am a prisoner at home. I have tried to talk to my husband, but he denies he has a problem and tells me that since he works every day, I cannot prove that he is an alcoholic and that there is nothing I can do. I saw a lawyer about getting divorced, and he told me I needed outside proof and, if I could not get it, I could either stay in the relationship or leave and take my chances. Other than our children (who refuse to get involved), no one else knows about this. I don’t think I can spend the rest of my life like this, but I am afraid to leave. Don’t I have any rights?
Answer: You do have options. In most states, “habitual drunkenness” means the fixed habit of getting frequently drunk. Based on this standard, you need not prove either continual drunkenness or alcoholism to get divorced. Based on the facts you describe, you should be able to get divorced if you can prove that the use or abuse of alcohol has caused the breakdown of normal marital relations.
“Outside proof” means corroboration of your complaints with independent evidence that will convince a judge that you are entitled to a divorce. Since no one really knows what goes on behind the closed doors of a marital home except the husband and wife, corroboration is important and need not be presented by witnesses.
We suggest that you consider the following: 1) Keep the empty beer cans in a lawn or trash bag for a month. At a dozen beers per day, it would be hard for a judge to believe that you made up this story. And if your husband denies he drank the beer, we assume his fingerprints will be all over the cans. 2) Take dated photographs of your husband’s stash of beer in the refrigerator each day for a period of time. 3) Take dated photographs and dated videotape of your husband passed out in his chair, surrounded by beer cans.
You should be able to present a compelling case by use of what is known as demonstrative evidence – that is, photographs and beer cans.