Father is drinking alcohol while mother is consoling daughter - Alcohol and Drug Use in Custody Case concept.

If you are about to enter into a child custody case, or already in the midst of one, you are probably aware that courts decide child custody based on “the best interest of the child.” The factors that courts consider in the best interest analysis vary somewhat from state to state, but all states take a parent’s alcohol and drug use into account when determining child custody. A parent actively abusing alcohol or drugs could put a child’s well-being at risk, so it is fitting for courts to consider this factor.

Can a Parent Lose Custody for Drug Use?

The answer to the question “Can a parent lose custody for drug use?” is a resounding “yes.” Custody is not something that parents have a right to if it puts their child’s safety at risk. Think about a father who drives under the influence with a child in the car, or a mother who passes out from drug use, leaving her young children unsupervised. Any number of tragedies could occur when a parent is abusing drugs or alcohol, so courts do not take this issue lightly.

You may be reading this article because you are concerned about your co-parent’s substance use, because you are worried about how your own drug or alcohol use may affect custody, or because you fear that your co-parent will make false allegations against you in order to gain an advantage in a custody matter. Whatever your situation, it is important to know how alcohol and drug use affect a child custody case.

Recreational Drug Use and Child Custody

Recreational drugs are those that are taken for enjoyment, rather than medicinal purposes. The same substance, such as opioid pain medication, might be considered medicinal under one circumstance and recreational under another.

In general, courts are not going to assume that even mild recreational drug use is harmless. Even if a drug used recreationally is legal and not considered addictive, a court’s primary concern is going to be how the parent’s drug use affects the child. And let’s be frank: there is never going to be a circumstance in which a court finds that a parent’s recreational drug use benefits a child.

At best, a court might conclude that the parent uses a recreational drug in a way that does not affect their parenting. However, it is more likely that the court will hold even casual recreational drug use against the parent, especially if the other parent has proof of the substance use and how it affects the family.

How to Prove Alcoholism and Drug Use in Custody Cases

Allegations of alcohol or drug abuse by a parent in a custody matter are often “he said/she said.” Just as courts frown on substance abuse by a parent, they also disapprove of one parent making false or exaggerated allegations against the other parent. In order to persuade a court, it is critically important to establish facts in support of your position.

Courts take allegations of substance abuse seriously, but they are usually reluctant to limit a child’s contact with a parent without proof that such contact would be contrary to the child’s best interests. If you are concerned about your child’s safety with the other parent, you will need to be able to present specific facts that led to that concern, such as evidence that the other parent drove under the influence with the child in the car or neglected a child in their care while abusing substances.

Most divorce and custody cases are settled out of court, but those involving claims of drug or alcohol abuse are more likely to be contested. In many cases involving claims that a parent abuses drugs or alcohol, the court will order a forensic child custody evaluation to get a more complete picture of the facts. It is essential to work with a family law attorney who is also an experienced litigator. A seasoned trial attorney will know how to prove alcoholism and drug use in your custody case, whether you are the parent alleged to abuse substances, or the parent making the allegations.

Can a Recovering Alcoholic Get Custody of Their Child?

It is understandable that a court would not want a parent who is actively abusing drugs or alcohol to be responsible for a child’s care. But what about a parent with a history of substance abuse who is in recovery? Does alcohol rehab affect custody? What about twelve-step programs?

While actively abusing drugs or alcohol can damage a parent’s likelihood of having custody of their child, being able to show serious, sustained, and successful efforts toward recovery can help. Courts understand that no one is perfect, but they look favorably upon a parent who has insight into their flaws and does what is necessary to be better for their child.

As with substance abuse itself, it is essential to demonstrate facts that support a parent’s recovery. Have they been in recovery for a while, or are they new to the process? Have they relapsed in the past? What treatment have they received? What is their support system like? Do they accept responsibility for their actions? Are they willing to submit to court-ordered drug testing or alcohol monitoring for child custody?

Contact Us For Guidance if You Are Facing Alcoholism or Drug Use in Your Custody Case

Child custody cases involving allegations of substance use or abuse are difficult for all involved. To learn more about how to prove alcoholism and drug abuse in custody cases or the best ways to regain custody after drug abuse, contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Child Custody