Alcoholism in Custody Cases: Strategies for Addressing Alcohol Misuse in Divorce and Related Concerns

Alcoholism in Custody Cases: Strategies for Addressing Alcohol Misuse in Divorce and Related Concerns
December 14, 2023
|   updated:
March 25, 2024

Your child deserves the chance to grow up knowing and feeling the love of both parents. It's a fundamental part of their identity and development. Kids flourish best when they bond with both mom and dad during their early years. However, life isn't always straightforward. What if one parent has a struggle, like alcoholism? These situations make ensuring your child's right to bond with both parents challenging. The primary duty falls upon the more responsible parent to shield and guide the child. But how? Sometimes, it's by involving the legal system. Taking this step might mean demonstrating in court that the other parent isn't the best fit for your child's safety and well-being. While this is a heart-wrenching decision, it's essential to remember that your child's safety and happiness are paramount. It's about doing what's best for them, even when it's tough.

Custody Battles in the Shadow of Alcohol Abuse

When one spouse's alcohol consumption contributes to the deterioration of the marriage, an additional layer of complexity may affect decisions involving child custody, shared parenting responsibilities, and what is in the best interests of the child.

If you make allegations that your spouse’s alcoholism is grounds to limit or deny them legal custody of your children, the law will require you to prove that your children's well-being would be at risk if entrusted to the other party. Courts of law cannot accept a mere allegation or suspicion as sufficient evidence to deny a parent’s custody or visitation in the divorce or custody cases that come before it.

Custody cases in which there are allegations of one parent’s alcohol abuse are of great concern to a Family Court Judge. With substance abuse allegations in custody cases, whether involving the abuse of drugs or alcohol abuse, one parent’s normal judgment, reaction time, agility, mental sharpness, and powers of observation might be so diminished their child’s safety is jeopardized.

If you and your attorney prove that a parent’s alcoholism or drug abuse disrupted the family’s life, disturbed the children, or threatened their welfare, Judges will limit or deny that parent’s legal custody or visitation until they address their addiction.

This article explains in detail how to prove alcoholism in divorce in an effective and meaningful way. It will also highlight strategies for navigating these types of cases.

Misunderstanding Alcoholism

In divorce cases, it is essential to clarify the difference between "alcoholism" and "alcohol misuse." Alcoholism is a colloquial word for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).  AUD is a medical condition characterized by a problematic pattern of alcohol use. Alcoholism, or AUD, is a disease that affects an individual's brain and behavior, leading to an inability to control their consumption of alcohol, regardless of the negative consequences.

Proving Negative Effects of Alcohol Abuse, Not Just Alcoholism

The primary objective in a custody and alcohol case is not just to prove alcoholism or AUD; the crucial goal is to substantiate or eradicate claims of alcohol abuse by one parent in an effort to make decisions regarding the best interests of the child. Alcohol abuse or misuse refers to a pattern of excessive alcohol consumption that results in harm to the individual and their family relationships and interferes with their ability to fulfill responsibilities.

It is important to note that not all individuals who misuse alcohol have AUD. In the context of a divorce, one parent does not need to prove that the other parent was formally diagnosed with “Alcohol Use Disorder” by a qualified physician. The critical matter to prove is that their alcohol abuse contributes to the children's unsafe environment.

A Family Court Judge is interested in assessing the extent of a parent's alcohol abuse and its potential impact on their ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children. Proving alcohol misuse in a divorce case can help the Court make informed decisions regarding child custody, shared parenting responsibilities, and the children's best interests.

By focusing on alcohol abuse rather than alcoholism, or AUD, the Court can better address the specific behaviors and risks associated with a parent's excessive alcohol consumption. This approach allows for a more accurate and fair assessment of the situation, ensuring that the welfare of the children remains the top priority.

Children's Best Interest Is Paramount

When the best interests of the divorcing parents’ children are at stake, the allegation of alcohol abuse by one of the parents is a highly relevant issue demanding the focus of the Family Court Judge and child advocates. But allegations about an alcoholic's behavior alone carry little weight in the rulings of a Family Court Judge without credible supporting evidence.

The purpose of the divorce proceeding is to determine the terms of the final divorce decree. Where and in what environment the children will live is a central issue. That decree must be forward-looking and be sculpted to address the reality of each family's circumstances.

A Family Court Judge will focus their chief legal concern on one party's alcohol use when it could endanger the children’s safety. In such a case, both parents will probably continue to appear in court long into the future to enable the Judge to monitor the alcoholic parent's recovery.

Motions to Modify a Divorce Decree

Because the children's best interests remain a continuing issue in every family, custody cases do not always end when the final divorce decree is entered. Instead, either party may file a motion to modify the terms of the divorce decree if they can prove a substantial change in circumstances or if an issue arises regarding the children’s welfare. Traditionally, a common challenge in custody cases is proving whether the parent still abuses alcohol or drugs after the divorce terms are settled.

When alcoholic parents lose legal custody of their children in divorce, they frequently change their alcohol or drug abuse and work hard to achieve a state of recovery. But how can you prove alcoholism in a divorce is no longer a danger to a child? How does an alcoholic prove to both their former spouse, their family, and the Judge that they are clean and sober?

A family law professional showing his client Soberlink.

Using Remote Alcohol Monitoring Technology

A desire to streamline custody and alcohol cases led Soberlink to develop a remote alcohol monitoring device that can deliver real-time test results multiple times a day to Concerned Parties. Aside from digitally recording the monitored parent’s entire testing history for the court to review, devices also include facial recognition and tamper sensors to ensure the integrity of each test.

Not only can alcohol monitoring devices provide evidence to the Court confirming a party's alcohol consumption, but they can also be used as an empowerment tool by parents who need to prove sobriety to maintain parenting time.

Lawyers reviewing evidence.

Proving Alcohol Problems in Divorce Court

Many forms of evidence can be used to prove alcoholism in a divorce. To prove that alcohol played a significant enough role in the marriage to affect a co-parent's fitness for unsupervised parenting time with a child, Courts require more than anecdotal evidence of occasional intoxication. When divorcing an alcoholic, the burden of proof falls squarely on the party seeking legal custody and the legal protection of their children from the risks posed by their co-parent's alcohol abuse.

Corroborating Evidence

Evidence consistent with someone suffering from alcoholism can include a history of accidents, difficulties with attendance at work, disruptive behavior in public places, financial problems, arrests, or even episodic domestic violence.

A Family Court Judge will typically find allegations of alcoholism convincing when multiple forms of evidence support them. Documents alone may only confirm isolated events that occurred far in the distant past. Testimony from the opposing party alone can exaggerate the frequency of alcohol abuse or be motivated by hostility. However, a blended evidentiary presentation reinforces the reliability of each piece individually.

Essential Evidence for Child Custody Cases Involving Alcoholism Without Using Soberlink

If you are not using or plan to use Soberlink, and are trying to prove that a spouse has a substantial, ongoing alcohol abuse problem, some types of evidence Courts will find most compelling include:

Testimony From a Spouse

While spousal testimony alone can sometimes be distrusted, that concern is dispelled when the testimony is supported by corroborating evidence. No one is better positioned to relate the negative consequences of a spouse’s alcohol consumption than the other spouse with whom they've lived.

Usually, one parent is the victim of abusive language, violence, or damage to household furniture when their spouse uses excessive alcohol. Like many drugs, consuming too much alcohol affects the user's mental processes, decision-making ability, and impulse control. Heavy alcohol users often do not remember the incidents during which they acted violently, or they recall them with shame and regret.

Other adult family members, neighbors, or friends can also witness these incidents. Testimony from an unrelated adult corroborating a spouse's recitation of these ugly events is powerful evidence.

The trauma inflicted on the children who witness alcohol-related conduct can have lifelong effects. Testimony describing what life is like behind closed doors with a person abusing alcohol is powerfully persuasive as part of a blended presentation.

Family Courts are keenly aware of the impact alcohol misuse has on children. Whether a party struggling with excessive alcohol use gets limited custody of their children or none at all will depend on the Court's belief about their commitment to remaining sober.

Photographs or Video

When a fact or event is contested in court, a photograph or video of the matter is invaluable. If confronted by photographic evidence depicting a home in shambles, a bruise, or other injury inflicted by a spouse in an intoxicated state, no excuse or denial will be credible.

Visual evidence of an event is more likely to be understood when the fact finder can see it for themselves in color. With smartphones easily accessible by most people, a camera is usually at hand to record both the good and bad instances.

Evidence of Arrests

Police arrest reports record the detailed events that culminated in a person being taken into custody. But the arrest report is only admissible if the officer who wrote the report testifies to what they observed or the person who informed the officer of the facts is present in court to testify.

Decisions to grant or extend visitation in custody cases when substance abuse is an issue will always hinge upon whether the Judge believes the substance abuse is ongoing. A Family Court Judge will not tolerate any substance abuse of alcohol, cocaine, or any other drugs. If an arrest record includes one or more arrests for possession of drugs, the Judge will undoubtedly want confirmation that the substance abuse issue has been resolved.

Certified Copies of Criminal and Traffic Court Proceedings

Official records kept in the ordinary course of business are usually admissible in court even without a live witness. When a party has a history of convictions or another adverse result in a traffic incident involving alcohol or drugs, the documents are strong evidence that the party’s substance abuse has reached a critical stage.

Child custody decisions are focused on a central priority: the best interests of the child. Courts will not knowingly grant unrestricted child custody to a party with a recent record of substance abuse while driving. DUI or reckless driving cases do not need to involve an accident or an injury to be viewed as extremely dangerous events.

If a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs when a minor child is in the vehicle, most states impose enhanced penalties upon conviction because of the grave danger to the child.

The fact that an accident did not occur is often a matter of pure chance. Likewise, multiple traffic violations, speeding, or running red lights or stop signs are further evidence that a child would be at risk.

Bank, Credit Card, and Financial Records

Credit card bills listing frequent purchases of alcohol can be highly informative because they show not only that purchase occurred, but they can also show the volume of alcohol and the frequency of the purchases.

If bills are going unpaid, especially if this coincides with purchases at bars or liquor stores, the Family Courts can infer that the person's alcohol consumption interferes with their ability to cope with daily living activities. This conduct has a solid correlation to alcohol addiction.

In the face of these kinds of persuasive evidence, Judges will not grant unsupervised visitation to the person engaging in substance abuse until they demonstrate a commitment to recovery and a substantial record of corroborated sobriety.

Family, Friends, and Associates' Testimony

Testimony offered by several people in the divorcing couple's life is powerful evidence in Family Court. Substance abuse, whether drugs or alcohol is involved, rarely appears as a sudden phenomenon. A person with an alcohol addiction frequently displays behavior that makes their impairment apparent to others.

Visitors to the couple's home and neighbors who overhear loud outbursts or detect a strong odor of alcohol or slurred speech during conversations with the user are the kind of real-life witnesses that Courts find credible.

Emails, Texts, or Phone Messages

Few forms of evidence are as influential as statements from the alcoholics themselves. Any electronic or phone communications in which the spouse who abuses alcohol or drugs expresses confused or irrational statements is further verification that the allegation of alcohol or other substance abuse is grounded in fact.

Records of Missed Treatment Appointments and Failed Rehab

If a spouse with a substance abuse problem claims to have recovered, a Court will view a record of failed or aborted treatment programs with interest. Treatment or rehab facilities routinely keep attendance records to document which participants comply with the program. Many of these facilities are obliged by court order to report a participant's attendance.

A negative compliance record or attendance record with previous treatment plans can indicate that the substance abuser is not genuinely committed to recovery or needs more effective or practical help.

Undoubtedly, the reason for presenting evidence of a co-parent's excessive alcohol consumption is to demonstrate their inability to safely care for their children while in their current state of addiction.

There are instances when it may be appropriate to present such evidence, even if the person has a history of sobriety. The primary objective is to ensure a secure and protected environment for the children in the months and years following the divorce's finalization.

Credible and reliable evidence of a party's excessive alcohol use will persuade a Family Court Judge to restrict their access to the couple's children unless sobriety is assured. Now that the Courts have Soberlink remote alcohol testing devices to obtain real-time sobriety monitoring, Family Court Judges in custody cases have more options to secure a child's safety when they are in the presence of a parent struggling with alcohol misuse.

Family Court Solutions

First, in the most acute custody cases, Courts can order a parent to participate in treatment programs designed to help reduce and eliminate the use of alcohol and drugs in their life. If the program is outpatient, the Court can order the litigant to use a Soberlink alcohol testing device on a routine schedule.

Throughout this initial recovery period from alcohol abuse, the party may be restricted from enjoying any overnight or unsupervised visitation with their child. Soberlink, however, is not intended to be punitive. On the contrary, the device is supportive and meant to empower both parents.

Unlike other methods of alcohol testing, Soberlink uses facial recognition and artificial intelligence technology for Advanced Reporting.

More outdated testing methods for drugs or alcohol, like random urinalysis testing, invite several strategies to defeat the accuracy of the test; some test subjects attempt flushing to dilute their urine and reduce the presence of drugs or alcohol.

Monitoring Alcohol Use in Child Custody Disputes

Will one of the parties be required to demonstrate sobriety to engage in visitation with their children? How will their abstinence from alcohol be monitored? The alcohol monitoring technology developed by Soberlink is relied upon by Family Courts nationwide to provide court-admissible reporting of a parent's sobriety when child custody and visitation are concerned.

Solving the Proof Problem

Typical challenges in divorce involving an alcoholic include the individual's denial of their alcohol addiction despite their love for their children. Since the Court's decisions in child custody cases are contingent on the parent's abstaining from alcohol, this creates a problematic situation where the parent must prioritize either their children or their continued consumption of alcohol. Soberlink is a tool that can help parents manage their alcohol abuse while continuing to foster relationships with their children.

iPhone home screen that displays a reminder text from Soberlink

Remote Alcohol Monitoring Devices

Soberlink's portable alcohol monitoring devices are convenient and easy-to-use. Family Court Judges will order the use of Soberlink when evidence indicates it is an appropriate measure to monitor a parent’s sobriety when the welfare of the children might be affected.

Alcohol Monitoring with Soberlink is Not Punitive

Soberlink always employs scheduled testing. In other words, random testing is never used. The developers' philosophy and the technology's utility emphasize that an easy-to-use, remote alcohol testing device can assure Concerned Parties and the Court that the alcohol-challenged litigant is free of alcohol when interacting with the couple's children. Because the tests are scheduled, the monitored parent can focus on time spent with their children instead of anxiety surrounding the next test.

Using Soberlink to Prove Sobriety

Divorce lawyers and social workers have also encouraged the use of Soberlink Devices by clients who want to disprove false allegations of alcohol abuse in custody cases. By regularly testing daily, the uninterrupted string of negative test results is indisputable evidence that allegations of excessive alcohol are untrue.

Alcohol Monitoring Increases Options

Using Soberlink’s remote alcohol monitoring technology has filled a gap that plagued the Family Court for generations. Before the availability of this technology, Family Court Judges who questioned the integrity of a litigant had far less effective or convenient ways to oversee sobriety in cases where alcohol was a concern. That reality did a disservice to the compliant parent and the children, who were often denied access to the love and guidance the absent parent could provide.

Gladly, that dilemma no longer exists in the nation's courts, where so many families are trying to rebuild trust in relationships they value.

About Soberlink

Soberlink is a highly trusted tool designed to remotely confirm someone's BAC or blood alcohol content in a simple and reliable way. Since 2011, the Soberlink system has been the leader in alcohol monitoring for Family Law, Addiction Treatment, and Workplace compliance monitoring. Soberlink’s handheld breathalyzer uses facial recognition, similar to the facial recognition technology on your phone, confirming your identity when you take the test and ensuring it's really you without needing someone else to check. Plus, it sends immediate results to specified contacts’ phones or emails, proving sobriety and providing peace of mind. The device is also smart enough to detect if someone tries to trick or beat the test, ensuring the results are always trustworthy. Finally, it uses AI to create easy-to-understand testing reports, saving you or a loved one from having to sift through pages of data to track progress. In short, Soberlink makes the whole process of remote alcohol testing more convenient, quick, and reliable – especially in custody and alcohol cases.


Learn More About Soberlink

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