Alcohol, Drugs, Divorce, Custody and Parenting Time

In Child Custody by Robert Toler0 Comments

Substance abuse, alcoholism, and addiction are common factors in family law cases, sadly. All too often we’re confronted with situations where parents are suffering from alcohol and drug addiction and must choose between sobriety and their children, or isolation and addiction. The choice between addiction and your children is all too real.

Making A Hard Choice

Family law courts typically recognize addiction as a disease and that we must treat it as such. That’s why the focus is often on getting a parent clean and sober and keeping them that way. A court may not be able to force an individual into alcohol and drugs treatment, but it can prevent a parent from seeing their children unless that parent participates in these programs. The choice is in the hands of the addict.  Get sober and stay sober, or eventually, you lose your children.

Allegations Of Abuse

Allegations of alcohol and drug abuse are more common than one might think. Sometimes, these allegations turn out to be false and were made for the purposes of manipulating a court’s order for parenting time (child custody). Other times, a parent is abusing illegal substances or alcohol, and a court must step in to protect the children. But how does a court know the difference between the truth and a malicious allegation?

Courts approach this question differently all the time.  One common step is to order alcohol and drug testing. Be prepared, though, because when a judge orders testing he or she may order testing of both parties. It can be embarrassing when your client demands the other side be tested, the court orders the testing to be mutual, and your client is the one who comes back positive.

Positive Test Results

A positive result never looks good, but it may not be the end of the world. Again, a court looks at substance abuse as a disease.  Initially, the judge may seek to treat the addiction. That’s why a common reaction to positive test results is to order monitored sobriety and counseling. But, parenting time may be suspended, or supervised, for a period of time.

At this point, a parent with a positive test result has to make a choice.  Will I get clean and sober for my children, or will I go into denial and continue to abuse?  If the parent chooses the former and decides to get clean, they will be on track to restoring full parenting and child custody rights.  A court may want confirmation of sobriety, but parenting time and custody restrictions are generally relaxed.

On the other hand, if a parent continues to deny their addiction, and ignores the court’s order, judges may fully suspend all parenting time. This parent’s refusal, or inability, to get clean only reinforces a court’s perception that parenting time with this parent represents a risk of emotional or physical harm to the children.  Alcohol and drugs abuse affect the children too.

Lawyers and judges who practice in family law see a wide range of addiction and abuse cases. They are not new to us. The professionals involved have seen every conceivable type of gamesmanship you can imagine.  Yet we all continue to hope we can bring this parent back into the lives of his or her children.

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