By Cheryl and Mark Schreck
The authors of this article, both of whom are divorce lawyers, describe what they observe in their practice. However, it is important to bear in mind that obviously the clientele of divorce lawyers is not a fair sample of the entire community. Their report, while disturbing and certainly true of a certain segment of our community, is not typical of the entire population.
The increased divorce rate among Orthodox couples has been blamed on several factors, including the Internet, a casual attitude toward tzeniut, emotional and mental health issues, as well as a variety of addictive behaviors. In our experience representing gentiles and Jews from all walks of life, we are unfortunately exposed to many of the worst of human behaviors. Although certainly not the norm, we have seen an increase in spouses addicted to or selling drugs. We’ve seen fathers routinely getting drunk on Shabbat and yom tov either in shul or at home. Children and spouses are neglected and even abused as the other spouse loses control and perspective to drugs and alcohol.
In one of our cases, we were presented with a visibly religious couple who sent their three children to prominent yeshivot and were active members in their shul and community. When the young wife came to us, she had finally reached her limit. Her husband (with a full beard and tzitzit) was getting drunk and high on a regular basis. Throughout the divorce proceedings, the husband insisted on having sole custody of the children. Despite the gory details proven at trial, his relatives refused to believe the husband’s horrific behavior. Although he lost full custody, he used the get as a bargaining chip to increase his unsupervised visitation. Luckily, while his family was in denial, he had not completely fooled local rabbis and rashei yeshivah who refused to support him. The spouses of other alcoholics or drug addicts are not always so fortunate.
While the preceding case is thankfully not typical, marijuana use is no longer shocking or unusual; neither is the latest trend—abuse of prescription drugs. Another client, whose husband was injured in a car accident, watched as her spouse became addicted to Oxycontin. He not only took the drugs, but became so adept at procuring them, he ultimately became a dealer. Lest we think that this problem lies only with husbands, we have seen several instances where otherwise responsible mothers have engaged in abusive or promiscuous behavior, sometimes with their husbands’ approval, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, often bitterly regretting it later.
What is important to remember is that we are not discussing a fringe element of the community. These are full-fledged, educated, often successful adults figuring prominently in our community. On the surface, these individuals do not appear to have any issues, let alone addictions. Often only their spouses and children are aware of the problem. Many otherwise well-learned individuals do not even realize that their behavior is antithetical to frumkeit. Because of this, and the sheer state of denial by family, friends and even rabbanim, professional help is viewed as unnecessary.
A vicious cycle emerges as children have no proper role models or adult supervision. The addictive behavior, whether inherited or modeled, affects the next generation unchecked. Even in apparently stable home environments children become addicted to drugs, alcohol, and the Internet. Addicted teens and children at risk can also rip apart a healthy marriage, just as any disease or tragedy can, except there’s an added element of shame. Differences of opinion in how to deal with the addicted child as well as finger pointing can lead to broken marriages. While we do not claim to be experts in drug and alcohol addiction and their prevention, we do feel that it is important for the community to open its eyes, see what is happening, and learn from it.
Cheryl and Mark Schreck are partners in The Schreck Law Group, a New York-based firm concentrating on family law in addition to handling general litigation and appeals. They can be reached at www.divorceandlitigation.com.
To hear an interview with Matrimonial Attorney Mark Schreck, please go to http://www.ou.org/life/relationships/dating/looking-at-divorce-through-the-eyes-of-a-matrimonial-attorney-audio-stephen-savitsky/.