OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor divorcing families, the mediation process can be extremely helpful but also quite stressful. If anyone in the family struggles with alcohol abuse, they may manage their anxiety by coming to sessions under the influence–making the process more challenging for the mediator as well as the participants.

Author and trained mediator Charlie Mulvey addresses this issue in a recent article on the site Mediate.com, suggesting that mediators should be able to screen participants prior to a session using a portable alcohol recognition device to ensure all parties are sober. This is particularly important when negotiating child custody and visitation.


Mulvey cites studies which show that separation or divorce rates are four times higher for alcoholics than for the general population, which means that at some point a mediator will be assisting a family struggling with this issue.

Research has also shown that alcoholism often equates with a higher rate of domestic abuse and violence, particularly with what Mulvey calls “high conflict couples” who struggle with any form of divorce mediation.

Screening for the presence of alcohol not only ensures more effective mediation but might also shine a light on domestic violence within the family. In addition, says Mulvey, it’s “just plain common sense, both for your own protection and safety, as well as the successful operation of your mediation practice.”


There have been many iterations of the “breathalyzer,” a device that measures a person’s blood alcohol content, but most were difficult to use and quite often inaccurate. Recently, the company Soberlink has developed a blood alcohol measuring device that is accurate, reliable and portable, making it a viable tool for family law mediators to perform DUI evaluations.

First, Soberlink can be used to confirm the sobriety of all mediation participants prior to the session. Perhaps an even more valuable use of Soberlink is to ensure child safety during visitation with the non-custodial parent.

Soberlink employs facial recognition to confirm the identity of the person using it, uses GPS to show the person’s location, and transmits results to the other parent within 60 to 90 seconds by internet, text or email. In child custody situations, this can provide peace of mind regarding a child’s safety during visitations and perhaps redevelop trust between the divorced parents, says Mulvey.

Finally, Mulvey states that “few investments in the family mediation arena have a higher potential for screening matters appropriate for mediation, providing safety and security, and ensuring a productive and successful mediation outcome for parents and children alike…”

As a trained mediator and licensed counselor for DUI risk education and treatment, I can help you successfully navigate a divorce process that involves alcohol abuse and/or domestic violence. Contact me to learn more.


Erin_Birt_37032Illinois attorney Erin Birt is a skilled legal professional with over ten years of experience in trial and divorce law serving clients in many DuPage County cities including Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Warrenville and Winfield.

She opened the Law Firm of Erin Birt, P.C. in 2010 to offer her clients alternative divorce resolution services, specialized collaborative divorce options and family law expertise. She also opened The Birt Group, a state-licensed DUI Counseling Firm in 2011.

Ms. Birt holds a J.D. from DePaul College of Law and is a member of the Collaborative Practice Professionals of Illinois, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the DuPage County Bar Association.