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Child's drug abuse ruining marriage

I had a case where I acted on behalf of the lady in the divorce. The man had a child from a previous marriage who was addicted to drugs. My client alleged that the drug use of this boy was the main reason for the irretrievable breakdown in the marriage.

The boy had been sent to rehabilitation on several occasions, and it had never been successful. He had relapsed into his drug use on several occasions. He was living with the couple and had been stealing from them according to my instructions. The couple had spent thousands of rands on the rehabilitation clinics. The boy had even on one occasion run away from one of the rehabilitation centres.

The couple were struggling financially and even were in danger of having to sell their house to pay for the rehabilitation costs of the boy. The boy was bringing drug addicts and drug dealers into the matrimonial home. He had been locked up on several occasions, and had various criminal cases against him. It was not the biological child of my client, which added to the pressure on the marriage.

I have seen clients complaining of this type of problem in various matters throughout my career. Drug use of one spouse can also often be a big factor in the breakdown of the marriage. It can seriously count against you in the divorce matter if you are addicted to drugs, particularly if there are minor children involved. This can seriously count against you in a custody battle.

It is not always easy for parents to be able to tell beyond reasonable doubt whether their child is a drug user or not. In the case mentioned above the parents noted certain signs in the boy's behaviour which indicated that he was using drugs. His behaviour had changed totally. He started telling lies and going out until all hours. He had lost his job and all interest in finding a job.

Many people think that you cannot legally intervene in another person's life when you believe that they are using drugs. This is not true. Anybody can approach a court and launch an application to have somebody else sent to rehabilitation. This could be a parent launching such an application against a child, or even one spouse launching an application against another spouse.

Often drug addicts are in denial of their behaviour and will refuse to go to rehabilitation on their own free will. A concerned party can bring an application to either the Magistrates Court or even the High Court to have somebody committed to rehabilitation. This would cost between R20 000,00 – R30 000,00 in the Magistrates Court and R40 000,00 – R100 000,00 in the High Court. The total cost would depend on whether the application is contested or not.

Sometimes in these cases an "interim order" is granted and the other side has an opportunity to oppose the order and give valid reasons as to why he or she should not be compelled to be sent to rehabilitation. In the above case mentioned the boy was addicted to "tik", which is a very dangerous drug in the Western Cape.

It is important for people whose marriages are suffering as a result of someone else's drug use to understand that the court is always there to assist. The court will bend over backwards to assist and will send somebody to rehabilitation if based on the evidence the court deems that to be necessary.

article written by Cape Town divorce lawyer, Peter M Baker

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