Child custody cases are contentious affairs almost by default; it’s simply the nature of the beast. However, an already difficult custody case can quickly become a train wreck when the specter of alcoholism rears its head.
The pressure of the case alone can feed alcoholism: stress leads to alcohol abuse, which complicates the case, which leads to more stress and more battles with alcohol in a vicious cycle that can quickly spiral out of control. But knowledge is power: there are discernible trends in the impact of alcoholism on child custody cases. Simply understanding these trends can make your custody case a much less frightening ordeal.
1) Failure to recognize the problem is a big problem: Judges tend to be particularly concerned with alcoholic behavior that remains unacknowledged by the parent. The rationale is simple: admitting the problem is the first step toward recovery, and an alcoholic parent who won’t acknowledge their condition can’t be reasonably expected to begin making progress toward the recovery that’s so crucial for their chid’s well-being.
2) Recent substance abuse can be a deal-breaker: For obvious reasons, judges are hesitant to award custody to a parent who may be in the middle of a downward spiral of addictive behaviors. In many divorce proceedings, the addictions of one parent were a key factor in the separation; if that behavior is still fresh in the rear-view mirror, it’s reasonable to assume that a judge will exercise an abundance of caution before placing a child in a potentially dangerous situation. Custody is especially difficult to acquire in cases where alcohol was a contributing factor to events like domestic violence, impaired driving, or child endangerment.
3) Newly-sober parents may have to prove themselves: It’s admirable, honorable, and prudent to seek sobriety; in the long run, you’re going to be a much better parent when you’re living a sober lifestyle. But be patient; in the short term, judges are likely to balk at awarding full custodial rights to a parent in the early stages of their sobriety, simply because the normal stresses of parenting can be a contributing factor toward relapse. Don’t get discouraged if your efforts toward sobriety fail to immediately sway the court; it’s common for judges to look for an extended sobriety before entertaining a change in custodial rights.
4) Alcoholism doesn’t mean all is lost: In fact, parents whose alcohol abuse is in the rear-view mirror aren’t likely to see it negatively impact their custodial rights; even if a spouse proves that past behavior occurred, a long-term period of sobriety will typically outweigh any periodic bouts of alcohol abuse, especially if they occurred before the birth of the children or if there’s no proof that the children were ever negatively impacted by their parent’s drinking.
In short, unless your drinking can be proven to present an immediate danger to the health or well-being of the children, it’s unlikely to impact the custody decision.