Alcohol Addiction & Child Custody: A Dangerous Cocktail

Is your spouse an alcoholic? When ruling on child custody, courts consider a parent’s use of drugs and alcohol. The reason why is fairly straightforward: preoccupation with obtaining drugs, and the impairment and aftereffects of being intoxicated, cause people to neglect their children’s physical and emotional needs. Using drugs clouds judgment and can put children in imminent danger.

As a case in point, consider this horrific story that recently made news: Susan McDonald of Wyoming had already lost primary custody of her daughter due to her drinking. But when she picked up her 5-year-old for visitation, she was so inebriated that she drove into a tractor trailer, killing her child. Drunk driving is not the only way addiction harms children; parents who allow drugs or other addicts in the home also endanger their children’s welfare in several ways, including putting the child at dire risk for abuse and neglect.

How Addiction Affects Custody

To determine custody and parenting time, the court will evaluate each parent’s ability to care for a child’s physical and emotional needs. If you are worried about your spouse’s substance use, you will need to collect and present evidence in a declaration, or through testimony in court, to convince a judge to order a custody evaluation. Evidence might include witnesses, e-mails, and text messages that substantiate your claim of a history of substance abuse. Once a custody evaluation is ordered, a forensic psychologist will do a thorough investigation to determine whether or not the other parent has a substance abuse problem that endangers the welfare of the child.

Questions to ask your attorney if your spouse has a substance abuse problem:

  • How can I prove that my child is in danger?
  • What do New Jersey family courts consider as grounds for a change in custody?
  • How do I get emergency custody of my child?
  • What if my spouse is willing to get treatment?
  • Under what circumstances can my spouse regain custody?
  • Can I request that the court order my spouse to take a drug test before visitation?
  • At what point are parental rights terminated?

The Addict And Visitation

If a parent has an addiction, he may be denied visitation, or granted only monitored visits. To ensure the safety of a child during visitation, the court may order that the parent with substance abuse issues take a drug test before visits.

The Role Of Rehab In Custody

When a court finds that a parent is abusing drugs, the judge may order the parent to go to rehab. While in treatment, the parent may be granted monitored visits with the child. If the court suspends custody or visitation, the court may reverse its decision once the addicted parent completes rehab. If a parent refuses to comply with court-ordered rehab, he may have his parental rights terminated.

While putting children in the middle of a custody dispute should be avoided when at all possible, a parent’s substance abuse is one scenario that justifies the fight.

For more information on how to legally protect your children from the impact of your spouse’s addiction, please contact us for an initial, completely confidential attorney consultation. We are here to help you through this difficult time. 

alcohol addiction and child custody