It would be naive to think that it is a rare occasion that substance abuse by a parent is raised in divorce and paternity cases; it is common and must be addressed by the courts. In a divorce proceeding it is important to note that, substance abuse, covers a very broad spectrum of “drugs” and is considered in varying degrees. If you find yourself in a situation where the words “substance abuse” have been brought up in your divorce, you may find this blog helpful.
It is first important to understand that when an opposing party (husband or wife or father or mother) brings up substance abuse, he/she may not be talking about drugs like cocaine, meth, heroin, etcetera. They may be referencing alcohol, prescription medications, and, of course, marijuana. He/she may have actual personal knowledge of the drug use, may have seen a social media post in which you appeared or posted about being impaired, or witnessed some odd behavior. This has to be proven in court with admissible evidence. A good attorney can advocate for or defend against such a position.
If there is a legitimate issue with substance abuse, this must be considered by the court as it relates to the best interests of the child. The “sober” parent likely will be favored by the court as it relates to physical and legal custody. Why? When it comes to custody, the judge will want the children in the most stable and reliable home. This will not be with the parent struggling with one or multiple substance abuse issues. Nevertheless, addiction is not the end of the line for the parent and parenting and custody. It is how the addiction is being handled. With strong evidence, whether the parent with addiction is in therapy or otherwise, may resolve the issue. This is a matter to discuss with counsel.
The court has many options to address a struggling parent’s handling of substance abuse as well. If a parent is seeking counseling and addressing the abuse issues, the court will look upon that parent in a more favorable light, while keeping the child’s safety and best interest at heart. This may mean supervised visits with reports back on a set schedule to the court. This may mean unsupervised visits, but no overnight stays, etcetera. If on the other hand the substance abuse is not being addressed, the court may have to take a harsher stance, depending on the situation. The court may decide to give full custody to the parent who is not struggling with substance abuse. The court may even order no visits.
It is important to note that not only is substance abuse brought up at the initial hearings or filing of divorce, or even in the settlement stage. If a couple has been divorced for a few or many years even, and then the substance abuse comes to light, the other parent may petition the court to modify the custody, at which time the court may take the same actions listed above. The court can also order a parent to seek therapy in order to maintain parenting time. The parent’s compliance with this order will also affect the judge’s decision on parenting time and visitation. If a parent is compliant and doing all that is asked of them, it is likely that visits will be granted so long as it is in the child’s best interest.
In general, it is best to seek counseling and rehabilitation if there is a substance abuse issue. It is even a good idea to seek counseling or a substance abuse evaluation if the allegation is not true, as this will help prove to the court that you are willing to address concerns and are holding your child or children’s best interests as a first priority. False allegations of substance abuse will also not work in the accusing parent’s best interest when found to be untrue, thus helping you in regard to your child’s custody and your legal position on custody.
This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle the full spectrum of child custody and divorce issues. If you find yourself in a situation where substance abuse is being alleged, factually or not, do not go it alone. This blog is written for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.