Substance use disorder affects child custody and visitation decisions

substance abuse and custody

Drugs and alcohol contribute to divorce

There’s no question that alcohol and drug use is a rampant problem in society. It seems a week doesn’t go by without news related to today’s opioid epidemic, meth busts or drivers arrested for a third or fourth time on operating-while-intoxicated charges.

But nowhere are the effects of abuse more pronounced than in families. It’s difficult living with someone who’s abusing substances. Studies have proven it. In one published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, for example, researchers found that a one-liter increase in alcohol consumption per capita increases the divorce rate by 20%.

Substance misuse a big factor in custody decisions

These divorces can be especially complicated when child custody and placement decisions are involved. Legal custody refers to which parent has decision-making rights regarding the child, and placement refers to time spent with the child. In recent years, courts have been mostly inclined to give equal custody and placement to both parents, but that all changes when one parent has a substance abuse issue.

Courts may impose custody conditions on parents who misuse alcohol or drugs

In family and divorce courts, one theme drives decisions concerning children, and that’s what is in the best interest of the child. Courts always look at where the child will be most secure, most comfortable, best cared for and well-loved. With that in mind, most courts will take whatever steps they deem reasonable to make sure that happens.

Supervised visitation

The court may require another adult to supervise all the child’s visits with the parent who misuses substances. Depending on what’s best for the child, the adult may be another authorized family member in the noncustodial parent’s home, or it could be more restrictive and require they occur in a specific place with a court-appointed supervisor.

No overnight visitation

Courts may prohibit overnight visitation with the noncustodial parent as a condition of its own or in addition to others.

Support meetings or treatment

Courts may order the parent with the addiction to seek treatment or attend support meetings. This requirement may be with or without visitation and custody rights.

Random drug and alcohol screenings

In most cases, courts only order random screenings if requested by one of the parents. Then, courts will order it only if you can offer sufficient evidence of substance misuse.

Prohibition when the child is with the parent

Courts nearly always prohibit all alcohol and drug use when the addicted parent is with the child.

Neither custody nor visitation

If the substance use disorder is severe, courts may also award full custody to the sober parent.

Proving a parent misuses drugs or alcohol

Frequently, parents with substance misuse issues will lean toward agreeing to what the sober parent requests. They do so because that keeps the matter private and reduces the possibility of the addiction affecting their reputation and careers, as well as the possibility of criminal charges.

Parents with substance use disorders, however, sometimes deny they have a problem, in which case you’ll need evidence to present to the family court. Collect photos, receipts, text messages and emails that show evidence of alcohol or drug misuse. Also, obtain copies of criminal records relating to the addiction abuse and any rehabilitation records if they exist.

Substance abuse may also affect maintenance decisions

If you are seeking to divorce someone struggling with substance use disorder, be sure to seek out an experienced divorce lawyer early on. They can guide you in thinking through what truly is in the best interest of your child and help you navigate through other facets of the divorce, such as maintenance, particularly if the spouse’s substance misuse negatively affected the couple’s finances.

Keep your focus on the child

Divorce is a difficult process in the best of circumstances. Just keep your eye on what’s best for your child, stand firm, and you’ll find peace of mind at the end of the journey.

substance abuse and custodyBy Tony Gingrasso, Divorce and Family Law Attorney at Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC. For a family or divorce lawyer in Wisconsin, call him at 608-784-5678.


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