How Does Substance Abuse Affect Child Custody?

When the courts determine child custody in a divorce, they look at many factors. Which party has taken on the primary role of parent? Can each parent provide the children with a stable home environment? Can they pay for basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter and medical care? Where does the child attend school? What is their daily routine? The court will look at the emotional ties that each child has with their parents. It will also look at the parents’ mental and physical health and moral character as well as any criminal history. If the children are old enough, the court may ask them about their preferences, as well.

Another important factor is substance abuse, such as using excessive drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse is the top reason for removing a child from their home. However, it is not substance abuse in and of itself that causes custody issues. Women are more likely than men to lose custody of their children for substance abuse issues. That is because there are often other factors involved, such as childhood abuse, neglect, and domestic violence. There are also demographic factors to consider, such as poverty, education, single parenthood, and unemployment. Many are also minorities.

In addition, women are more likely to lose custody of one or more of their children when other factors are involved. For example, many women have genetic factors involved, such as family members with a history of drug or alcohol use or psychiatric issues. They may not have ever had a relationship with their father or ever had a male role model in their lives. Many are teen mothers who have three or more children.

These are women who may not have a high school education. Many live in poverty, with an annual income below $13,000. Many have a history of prescription drug use or depression. They may use IV drugs and even have a history of overdose. Some even have a criminal history and have been incarcerated.

However, fathers who have had joint or primary custody of their children can lose custody, as well, if they engage in substance abuse. They just do not usually have the same factors involved that women tend to have. The court will look at the parent’s history of substance abuse and look at any progress made toward sobriety.

When was the last time that the parent used drugs or alcohol? If it was several years ago, then the judge may want to see how the parent is maintaining his or her sobriety. For example, does the parent still attend treatment or support groups to stay sober? If the parent has been staying sober and avoiding substances, then this should not affect them in a custody case. They should be allowed to continue having a relationship with their children.

If the parent recently relapsed and has been using drugs or alcohol more recently, then the judge may order drug or alcohol testing to see if the parent is still abusing substances. If so, then he or she may still have visitation, but it may be supervised to keep the children safe. If the parent tests positive for substance use, then regular tests will be required until the parent tests negative. Until then, the parent will likely lose custody and face supervised visitation.

When a parent suspects that the other parent is using drugs or alcohol, they can ask the court to test the parent for substance use. A test can show the type of drug and amount. This can affect the custody order. For example, a parent who has used a little bit of marijuana will not be treated as harshly as someone who has a significant amount of heroin or cocaine in their system. The marijuana user may be asked to abstain from use while the children are present, but a heroin user may lose custody altogether, since heroin is known as a much more serious drug than marijuana, which has become legal for medical and recreational purposes in most states (currently, marijuana is legal in Florida for medicinal use only).

Many courts use a step-up approach to dealing with visitation and custody issues. This means that parents who use substances start out with a limited visitation schedule. Once they can show that they are striving for sobriety, they can receive more and more time with their children.

In some cases, parents are falsely accused of using drugs or alcohol. This is because the other parent seeks sole custody and finds ways to lie to seek revenge on the other parent. In these cases, it is wise for the accused parent to seek legal help and find ways to prove that he or she has not been using any substances. For example, they may agree to testing or a search of their home to prove that they are in fact clean and sober.

Seek Legal Help

Substance abuse is just one of many factors that courts look at when determining child custody. The courts have the best interests of the children in mind and want to make sure that the parent is committed to sobriety before allowing substantial visitation or custody.

Are you or the other parent struggling with substance abuse? Broward County divorce attorney Scott J. Stadler can help with fair custody and visitation. We have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the process. Schedule a consultation today by calling (954) 346-6464 or filling out the online form.