Co-Parenting with an Alcoholic

Co-Parenting with an Alcoholic
April 18, 2023
|   updated:
March 25, 2024

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that 7% of American adults have a problem with alcohol abuse. As the issue is believed to be systematically underreported, that means that at least 15 million adults have alcohol abuse issues nationwide. Many more are dealing with other substance abuse problems, including drug addiction. 

Co-Parenting When Alcohol Abuse is Compounded by a Divorce 

The destructive grip of alcohol abuse can ravage not only the individual but also their loved ones, tearing apart families and leaving shattered lives in its wake. Parents of young children or teenagers are frequently among those impacted by alcohol abuse. Add a divorce and child custody to the mix, and the problem can become compounded, exponentially increasing the risks faced by the parties’ children and hurdles faced by the parents – both parents.

For many parents, child custody can be tricky in and of itself. Co-parenting with an alcoholic ex can make shared custody that much more complicated. It is also important to note that while the term ‘alcoholic’ is commonly used to describe an individual struggling with addiction, it can be stigmatizing. Therefore, the clinical term describing someone with alcoholism is ‘Alcohol Use Disorder’, although that term may appear infrequently throughout this particular text.

Nevertheless, to help parents navigate their custody and alcohol case, this article will offer suggestions for co-parenting with an individual struggling with alcohol addiction.

Put Your Child’s Safety, Health, and Emotional Well-Being First

Put Your Child’s Safety, Health, and Emotional Well-Being First 

When co-parenting with an alcoholic ex, it is important to always prioritize the health, safety, well-being, and positive social development of your children. Research cited by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) indicates that alcohol abuse by a family member, especially a parent, can have serious negative effects on a child. Therefore, the following should always be kept in mind:

  • Prioritize your child's safety, health, and emotional well-being;
  • Be proactive in addressing any risks associated with your co-parent's alcohol consumption, such as impaired decision-making, driving under the influence, or any form of abuse;
  • Stay attuned to your child's feelings; and
  • Provide a stable, nurturing environment to help your child cope with the challenges they may face.

Be Aware of the Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse During Non-Parenting Time

Remember that the consequences of your co-parent's alcohol abuse can extend beyond their parenting time and custody. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to hangovers, mood swings, and impaired decision-making even when they are not actively drinking. These side effects may impact your co-parent's ability to communicate effectively, make important decisions, or engage with your child during exchanges. A person struggling with alcohol could have an overall unstable living environment. Stay vigilant and be prepared to address any issues that may arise, ensuring that your child always remains in a safe and supportive environment.

Be Ready to Talk About Alcohol Abuse with Your Children (Age/Situation Appropriate)

Your children may have many questions about your ex-spouse's behaviors. Prepare for age-appropriate and situation-specific conversations about alcohol abuse with your children. Educate them about the dangers of alcohol and the impact of addiction on a person's life. Encourage open dialogue, allowing your children to ask questions and express their feelings. And listen. Remain supportive and understanding, and emphasize that your mom or dad’s alcohol issues are not their fault.

Be Willing to Communicate About a Co-Parent's Alcohol Issues Openly 

Be Willing to Communicate About a Co-Parent's Alcohol Issues Openly

Effective co-parenting requires open, ongoing, and positive communication. To the extent that it is productive, you should be willing to maintain open and honest communication with your co-parent regarding their alcohol issues, even after divorce. Among other things, this may include expressing concerns, discussing treatment options, and setting boundaries.

The path to recovery from alcohol abuse or drug abuse can differ for everyone. Encourage them to seek professional help. Proactive communication can help to make the process easier. Remember that addiction is a complex issue, so maintain empathy and understanding while safeguarding your child's best interests. 

Create a Comprehensive Parenting Plan

State laws on child custody and child visitation vary. Most U.S. jurisdictions use the ‘best interests of the child’ standard. The Child Welfare Information Gateway explains that the ‘best interests of the child’ is a term without a single standard definition but that it typically refers to “the deliberation that courts undertake when deciding what type of services, actions, and orders will best serve a child as well as who is best suited to take care of a child.”

Parenting plans are vital when navigating child custody disputes. By clearly defining each parent's role, you can minimize conflicts and provide consistency for your child. Develop a detailed parenting plan that outlines each parent's responsibilities and expectations. But be prepared to adjust the plan as necessary to accommodate your co-parent's progress in addressing their alcohol issues.

Designing a Comprehensive Parenting Plan: Critical Components for Successful Shared Parenting

A woman writing down a comprehensive parent plan

A comprehensive parenting plan takes into account the unique circumstances of your family, including your children's needs and your own schedules and preferences. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a tailored roadmap for piloting the challenges of shared parenting.

So, what are some of the critical components that make up a solid parenting plan?

  • First and foremost, you'll need to establish a clear schedule for when your children will be with each parent. This includes details like pick-up and drop-off times, as well as any arrangements for holidays, school breaks, and vacations.
  • Next, you'll want to think about how you'll handle communication between you and your co-parents and with your children. This may involve setting guidelines for how and when you'll communicate, as well as outlining expectations for respectful behavior.
  • Other important elements of a parenting plan might include healthcare decisions and extracurricular activities.
  • You'll also want to consider how you'll handle any potential conflicts that arise, such as disagreements over discipline or rules in each household.

Overall, a successful parenting plan requires attention to detail and a willingness to work together to create a plan that benefits everyone involved. By putting in the effort upfront, you can set your family up for success and ensure that your children feel supported and loved by both parents. 

Consider a ‘No Alcohol During Parenting Time’ Policy

When customizing a parenting plan to meet the unique needs of your family, it is important to include provisions to address any alcohol abuse or drug addiction issues that your ex-spouse may have. In these cases, it may be necessary to include a 'No Alcohol During Parenting Time' policy to ensure your child's safety.

Not only does such a policy send a clear message that alcohol consumption is unacceptable when caring for your child, but it is also legally binding and enforceable by the Court. In other words, a co-parent must abide by the terms of a 'No Alcohol During Parenting Time' policy to have child custody. If they fail to do so, corrective action can be taken to address the violation. 

Follow Up Immediately on Any Alcohol Use Violations

The reality is that a co-parent with alcohol abuse issues may suffer some setbacks. Indeed, even a co-parent who is acting in good faith and trying to overcome their problems may suffer some form of relapse, even when exercising their custody time. If your co-parent violates the 'No Alcohol During Parenting Time' policy or any other agreement related to their alcohol consumption, address the issue promptly and directly. Communicate your concerns and discuss the potential consequences of their actions. Depending on the severity of the violation, you may need to consider involving legal authorities, mediators, or counselors to help resolve the situation and ensure your child's safety. 

Consider Remote Alcohol Monitoring Technology 

A Soberlink salesman explaining why you should consider remote alcohol monitoring technology

A ‘No Alcohol During Parenting Time' policy can be incredibly beneficial. That being said, it is only helpful to the extent that the parent with an alcohol abuse problem actually follows it. The latest technology can make compliance and enforcement a lot easier. To confirm your co-parent's sobriety during their parenting time, remote alcohol monitoring technology, such as Soberlink, is invaluable. 

Safeguard Your Child's Welfare with the Most Effective Remote Alcohol Monitoring System

Parenting time can be made safer with the implementation of Soberlink. This court-admissible system offers much more than just keeping track of your ex-spouse's alcohol intake. Soberlink supports accountability for sobriety using a comprehensive alcohol monitoring system. The portable design and state-of-the-art technology of Soberlink's professional-grade breathalyzer, which includes wireless connectivity, allows for:

  • Facial Recognition to confirm identity during each test;
  • Internal sensors that screen for tamper detection and pick up on any inconsistencies;
  • Advanced Reporting that provides you with immediate access to color-coded, easy-to-read, real-time data in a calendar format, so you can quickly see if a test is Compliant, Missed or Non-Compliant; and
  • Real-Time Results that are wirelessly transmitted automatically to you by text and/or email.

Furthermore, the knowledge that their behavior is being closely monitored may also motivate your co-parent to prioritize their sobriety and commit to a healthier lifestyle for the sake of their children. 

Consider Your Options Across Two Monitoring Levels

A woman drinking coffee and checking monitoring levels on laptop

If your co-parent's alcohol issues persist or escalate, consider implementing a more intensive monitoring plan, such as Soberlink’s Level 2 - Daily Testing. Daily Testing has a zero-tolerance alcohol policy, meaning, parents are monitored seven days a week and cannot consume alcohol at any point. For severe cases, this level of enhanced monitoring can help to protect your child better.

Soberlink’s Level 1 monitoring program only involves monitoring during parenting time. Thus, parents must only remain abstinent during custodial hours. On Level 1, parents are able to drink outside of parenting time.

Level 1 is managed by both parties, while Level 2 is managed by Soberlink.  Both programs document missed tests, send reminder alerts, and operate using scheduled testing. A typical testing schedule has 2 to 3 tests per day during waking hours. 

Support the Treatment, Therapy, and Recovery of a Co-Parent 

Encouraging your co-parent to seek treatment and therapy, and supporting their engagement in the recovery process, can be instrumental in promoting their long-term sobriety. As you see signs of improvement, for the sake of your child, it may help to offer practical support where possible, to help your co-parent navigate the difficulties that may arise during their journey towards sobriety. By creating a non-judgmental environment, you can help your co-parent achieve lasting success in their recovery, which can ultimately have a positive impact on your child. 

Do Not Be in Denial About Alcohol Abuse

A Man in Denial about Alcohol Abuse

Recognizing that your co-parent has a problem with alcohol can be an emotionally challenging and distressing experience. It's understandable to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed, but denying the reality of the situation can ultimately do more harm than good. Taking a kind and understanding approach to the situation is crucial, recognizing that your co-parent is struggling with a complex and difficult issue.

By acknowledging the problem and seeking out the support and resources necessary to address it, you can take the first step towards a healthier and more positive future for yourself, your co-parent, and your family dynamic as a whole. 

Do Not Blame Yourself for Your Ex’s Alcohol Abuse

Your co-parent's alcohol abuse is not your fault. It is important to remember that external factors such as your behavior or actions are not causing their alcohol abuse. It is a personal struggle that they must face and overcome. Therefore, it is crucial to avoid blaming yourself for your co-parent's alcohol abuse. Recognize that you cannot control or fix their addiction, but you can manage your reactions and take steps to protect yourself and your children. 

Do Not Rely on an Alcohol Abuser for Voluntary Compliance

Alcohol abuse is a complex disorder that can be difficult to overcome. When a person is dealing with alcohol addiction or any other type of addiction, their behavior can change. A person who can be relied upon when sober may no longer be reliable (at all) when drinking. It is essential to have a solid plan in place to ensure that the children receive the care and support they need without putting themselves in harm's way.

Effective co-parenting with an alcoholic ex requires patience, understanding, and, often, tough decisions. Implement strict guidelines, monitoring measures, and consistent consequences for non-compliance. By employing clear guidelines and monitoring measures, you can minimize the risk of your child being exposed to unsafe situations, not to mention, it holds your co-parent accountable. 

Do Not Put Your Child in the Middle of Any Conflict

A Child in the Middle of A Conflict

Avoid involving your child in disputes or disagreements with your co-parent. For children, dealing with a conflict between their parents can be challenging, especially if they feel like they are at the center of that conflict. A child in this situation could experience emotional or psychological harm. Keep conversations about alcohol abuse and other sensitive topics private. Doing so can help ensure that your child does not feel burdened or forced to choose sides. 

Do Not Rely on Your Child to Monitor a Co-Parent’s Alcohol Use

Children should be able to enjoy a safe and nurturing environment with both parents, free from the burden of having to spy on mom or dad. It is not a child's responsibility to keep tabs on their parents’ behavior. Besides, such a situation can put a child in a difficult and potentially dangerous position. It is best to use remote alcohol testing devices or involve third-party professionals to handle this aspect of co-parenting. 

Do Not Unilaterally Forbid Parenting Time Without Just Legal Cause 

Avoid unilaterally denying your co-parent's visitation rights without proper legal justification. Consult with a Family Law Professional and follow the appropriate legal channels if you believe your child's safety is at risk due to your co-parent's alcohol abuse. By following proper legal procedures, you can protect your child's safety while also respecting your co-parent's legal rights and maintaining a healthy co-parenting relationship. Ultimately, keeping open communication and seeking professional guidance can help ensure that your child's best interests are always at the forefront of your co-parenting efforts. 

Do Not Hesitate to Take Things to the Next Level if Needed

A Smiling Woman Not Hesitating to Take Things to the Next Level if Needed

If your co-parent's alcohol abuse continues to pose a risk to your child's safety or well-being, don't hesitate to address the situation. This may involve seeking legal counsel, obtaining a protective order, or involving child protective services. Every case is different. That being said, you must prioritize your child's best interests and take the necessary actions when the situation justifiably calls for it.   

Get Professional Help as Needed

Co-parenting is hard. Co-parenting with an alcoholic ex can be even more challenging. You do not have to figure everything out alone. You should never hesitate to seek professional help for yourself or your child when navigating the complexities of sharing custody with an alcoholic. Reach out to therapists, support groups, attorneys, or other experts who can provide guidance and assistance. Professional support can help you and your child cope with the challenges of this situation and ensure that you are making the best decisions for your future. 

A Family Law Attorney with Experience in Child Custody Can Help 

Your child's welfare can be fully safeguarded if you have the appropriate framework in place. Often, this includes a comprehensive and customized parenting plan with a ‘No Alcohol During Parenting Time' policy, together with remote alcohol monitoring to increase the likelihood of compliance with the parenting plan. An experienced Family Law Attorney can help you establish such a strategy and provide guidance on how to effectively monitor your ex’s compliance.

Learn More About Soberlink

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.