How to Draft a Parenting Plan When Alcohol Abuse is Involved

A woman and her husband discussing a parenting plan incorporating a sobriety clause due to substance abuse concerns
March 9, 2020
|   updated:
April 17, 2024

As of 2018, there were 6.5 marriages and 2.9 divorces for every 1,000 people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This data suggests that, while well-intentioned, about 45% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Although the dissolution of marriage is difficult in any capacity, when children and the issue of child custody and alcohol are involved, the situation has proven to become more complex. Rather than file for sole custody during divorce, parents are often encouraged to draft a child custody parenting plan in Family Court that allows children to continue visitation with both parents. When alcohol abuse – or any substance abuse - is a factor in a custody case, additional precautions must be taken by parents, attorneys, and other law professionals to ensure that the best interests of the child are being upheld, despite how contentious the divorce.

Alcohol Abuse and Family Law

Just as no one plans to get a divorce when they get married, no one plans to struggle with substance abuse or alcohol addiction. However, a 14-year study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found substance abuse to be one of the most common reasons for divorce. Consequently, it’s not uncommon for children to witness evidence of an alcoholic parent’s behavior or alcohol abuse in the household. One in five adult Americans grew up in homes with parents struggling with an alcohol addiction or some degree of substance abuse, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). 

As intuitive and attentive as children are, they can pick up on small things between parents such as tension, hushed arguments, stress, and the sense that something is not right, even when parents are careful to mask such occurrences. “Children are emotionally and physically dependent on their parents growing up. If you don’t have a parent that’s physically present because of substance abuse or an addiction to alcohol, the children are at much greater risk of having intellectual, social, and emotional problems,” says Dr. Lana Stern, Ph.D., Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Child affected by parents' alcohol abuse, underlining the importance of a sobriety clause in custody agreement.

The psychological effects that alcohol abuse may have on children, as stated by the AACAP, include:

  • Guilt: The children may blame themselves for their parent’s substance abuse or alcohol addiction, believing that if they behaved better, etc. that the adult would not be an alcoholic and divorce would not have taken place. 
  • Anxiety: As alcohol abuse or excessive drinking can often involve erratic behavior, the children may feel on edge and uneasy, worrying about the situation at home, the safety of their parents, and how alcohol may impact how the day will unfold. “There’s a lot of anxiety children experience when they have an alcoholic parent because the children don’t know what to expect at home and if the parent is going to be sober,” Dr. Stern says.
  • Embarrassment: Often associated with secrecy, issues of alcohol abuse at home may result in the children feeling like they can’t discuss their home life as easily or invite friends to their house. There may also be evidence of children becoming fearful the parent will become intoxicated in public or erratic due to alcohol abuse, in some custody cases. 
  • Confusion: The lack of stability that’s often associated with alcohol abuse can be hard for children to grasp, causing them to feel unsure about how the parent will act and creating an inconsistent routine. “Children do best when they have a predictable, stable environment. When you have an alcoholic parent sharing custody, that structure may be missing,” Dr. Stern says.

In addition to the psychological well-being of children, a parent’s drinking or alcohol abuse can also raise a concern about the children’s physical well-being under their custody. Board Certified in Family Law, San Antonio Divorce Attorney Charles Hardy says that the primary concern in child custody court cases involving alcohol abuse is the children’s well-being.

“Generally, in alcohol and custody proceedings, it is evident the other parent is worried about the safety of the child or children during visitation. They are worried about the parent drinking and driving with them and worried about their ability to care for them when they have an alcohol problem,” Hardy explains. Situations like this present a high-risk situation for all parties involved, including attorneys and other law professionals. For nearly a decade, Family Law attorneys such as Charles Hardy have been using Soberlink Alcohol Monitoring in child custody cases involving alcohol abuse to help parents document and prove sobriety, manage an addiction, streamline custody agreements, and offer Concerned Parties peace of mind pre- and post-divorce.

A consultant giving info about Soberlink, a key tool in enforcing sobriety clauses in custody agreements involving a substance abuse problem.

Offering unprecedented facial recognition and robust tamper detection, Soberlink alcohol monitoring combines a professional-grade breathalyzer with wireless connectivity to deliver real-time test results to co-parents and other specified parties. “Soberlink is thorough. It offers validity in the process, it avoids the ability to cheat the process, and it keeps parents sober from alcohol while they are in possession of their kids,” Hardy says. While Hardy has looked at other programs in the past, he says that none of them hold the same weight in custody and alcohol proceedings as Soberlink. “Soberlink is my favorite program to use in these cases, and judges in San Antonio tend to favor Soberlink in custody and alcohol situations because they understand and trust it.”

Working to meet each of the needs of various Family Law child custody cases involving alcohol abuse, Soberlink offers two levels of alcohol monitoring for parents looking to prove sobriety:

  • Level 1: The Level 1 program requires the co-parent to submit tests during parenting time only. Meaning, drinking can occur outside of custodial time. Designed to be dynamic, this one-of-a-kind program works with any co-parenting or custody schedule. Testing times are determined by the Monitored Client (the one taking the test) and the Concerned Party (the person who will receive Soberlink test results). 
  • Level 2: The Level 2 program provides a set schedule with daily testing seven days a week. Complete abstinence from alcohol is needed for this program, despite a co-parent’s visitation schedule or custody agreement. Level 2 testing times are managed by Soberlink, which sends reminder text messages for scheduled tests and documents missed tests. An effective way for co-parents to prove sobriety and monitor alcohol use, this program typically involves a schedule of three to four tests per day during waking hours. 

The Parenting Plan

A woman drafting a custody agreement on her laptop, ensuring the inclusion of a sobriety clause due to alcohol abuse issues.

Laws regarding child custody and visitation vary between each state. With this in mind, attorneys understand the importance of following individual state child custody guidelines when drafting a parenting plan. Additionally, using the Soberlink Order Form and adhering to agreed upon time schedules is also vital to the custody agreement being accepted by the court during divorce proceedings. Orders not written using the Soberlink Order Form are not accepted as having any validity at Soberlink and cannot be used as evidence. 

The ultimate goal of all custody arrangements and parenting plans is to make sure the best interest of the children is being upheld, especially when alcohol is involved. Although it may be challenging to meet with your co-parent to discuss child custody arrangements, making an equal effort can result in having a stronger say in the outcome, rather than running the risk of having the court determine visitation guidelines based on a parent’s alcohol abuse allegations. 

Parenting plans and custody agreements can be devised to fit each family’s unique situation best. For joint or shared child custody situations, which allow children to spend significant time with both parents, standard co-parenting plans involve time split 50/50 or 60/40 custody. Alternatively, sole custody allows the children to have one consistent home base with time typically split 70/30 or 80/20 custody.

Father exercising his custody rights during a visitation session with his daughter, showcasing a harmonious family moment under custody agreements.

It pays to be extremely detail-oriented when drafting a child custody agreement or parenting plan, especially when alcohol addiction is involved in a divorce. Avoiding vague or general language such as “liberal and frequent visitation” will help create a clear set of guidelines for courts to follow, preventing future custody debates stemming from a parent’s alcohol addiction. Other measures to consider incorporating into a custody agreement or court order include:

  • Holidays, graduations, special events 
  • The age the parenting plan will be revisited to accommodate children as they grow older
  • Travel guidelines for both domestic and international trips
  • How much time each parent has to spend with their children, including third party time, such as daycare, school, and relatives
  • Whether one parent will give the other parent the option to spend time with their children first before they make arrangements with a babysitter, relative, etc. 
  • Whose healthcare plan the children will be on, fee payments, and medical decisions

To ensure child safety when alcohol abuse is present, it’s encouraged that the custody agreement or parenting plan has a provision that allows for court-admissible alcohol monitoring. If Soberlink is the selected method for monitoring, parents can determine whether alcohol can be consumed outside of parenting time or if complete abstinence needs to be practiced seven days a week.

The Importance of Evidence

Soberlink Monthly Client Detail Report, serving as crucial evidence in custody agreements with a sobriety clause.

Whether concerns about alcohol abuse are warranted or not can be unclear; with Soberlink, law professionals obtain court-admissible documentation detailing the role alcohol plays in a child custody case. If Soberlink data reveals alcohol abuse is present, the courts may deter from granting sole custody or visitation rights to the struggling parent. 

“[Before Soberlink,] If one parent thought the other was drinking and jeopardizing a child’s safety, they could ask the court to order a urine test to prove alcohol consumption and therefore, support their suspicions. It was cumbersome and it was difficult. If the urine test came back negative, the parent who asked for it had to pay for it, and there were only so many allowed per month. There was a question as to whether or not the parent insisting on the test was actually worried about the other’s drinking or if they were trying to use alcohol abuse allegations to punish them,” Hardy says. “There was not a good method that I was aware of for proving a parent’s sobriety prior to Soberlink.” 

Court-admissible and used in all 50 states, Soberlink helps alleviate he-said-she-said arguments and alcohol accusations with hard evidence. Tests can be taken morning, afternoon, and night or specifically during parenting time, allowing for clear evidence of the individual’s alcohol use during custody and while parenting. Beneficial to both parties, Soberlink provides peace of mind to families plagued by anxiety surrounding their child’s safety and the ability for a parent who is accused of alcohol abuse to prove their sobriety to maintain custody.

One client shares the impact that Soberlink had on her child custody and alcohol case when her capabilities as a parent were being contested. “My attorney and I asked the judge for a more reliable alcohol testing method. The only thing the judge would accept was an ankle bracelet to prove sobriety, which was unacceptable to me. Research led my attorney to propose Soberlink remote alcohol monitoring as an alternative. We proved to the judge that I was sober using dozens of consecutive Compliant Soberlink tests, even in the face of yet another false positive from the lab.”

Including Alcohol Monitoring in the Parenting Plan

A man carefully reading a custody agreement, focusing on the sobriety clause due to concerns of alcohol abuse.

If alcohol abuse is a concern in a Family Law custody case, including a clause or provision for alcohol monitoring can be a vital component of a co-parenting agreement. More advanced than alternative options, Soberlink provides peace of mind to judges, concerned parties, and Family Law professionals through an FDA-cleared solution that includes automated facial recognition, tamper detection, and documented court-admissible results. Used as a tool in Addiction Recovery, Soberlink can help alcoholic parents on their recovery journey prove their sobriety. For many, knowing that they have to take a test later that may influence custody arrangements or their attorney’s ability to represent them, can help keep them accountable and motivated. Instead of random alcohol testing, which is often used for alternative methods, Soberlink’s scheduled testing promotes structure and accountability while reducing testing anxiety. 

The choice between Level 1 monitoring during Parenting Time Only and Level 2 monitoring Daily Testing depends on parent preferences and the risk level associated with the situation. The recommended testing schedule for Level 2 is submitting the first test of the day shortly after waking up and the last test just before bed. When more than two tests daily are scheduled, Soberlink suggests spacing them out evenly throughout the day to ensure compliance and limit testing anxiety. These schedules are managed by the Soberlink system and tests are to be submitted every day. The Level 1 option is available for more low-risk alcohol cases, which allows for testing only during custody or parenting time, with schedules agreed upon and managed by the parents.

If Soberlink is involved in a court order by a judge, families and attorneys should be advised that a Soberlink Family Law Order Form must be completed and included. To ensure agreements are legally enforceable and to avoid vagueness or ambiguity in terminology, the following questions from the Soberlink Order Language Outline should be reviewed and considered with your attorney or legal representation beforehand:

How will testing be reported (Which Soberlink Plan will be used?) 

  • Basic Plan with no real-time alerts. Includes daily email reports of previous day’s testing and is limited to two report recipients, the Monitored Client, and Concerned Party
  • Plus Plan with real-time email alerts. Includes daily, weekly, and monthly email reports with unlimited report recipients
  • Premium Plan with real-time email and text alerts. Includes daily, weekly, and monthly email reports with unlimited report recipients

Who will pay for the Device and monitoring fees? 

  • Monitored Client: The parent required to submit tests using the Soberlink Device 
  • Concerned Party: The person who will receive Soberlink test results and has the best interests of the child in mind 

How many tests per day are required during a full day of testing? 

  • Two tests per day: When waking up and before bed
  • Three tests per day: When waking up, mid-day, and before bed
  • Four tests per day: When waking up, early mid-day, late mid-day, and before bed 

The unanimous consensus from an expert panel listed in the Soberlink Best Practices guide recommends three tests per day at the start of a Soberlink alcohol monitoring program. To promote progress and growth, the panel agrees that the number of daily tests could be reduced to two after favorable results are given over a one year. * Hardy weighs in on this, stating that he finds multiple tests throughout the day to be very important. “I like several tests per day, with one early in the morning and then late at night, as some people try to consume alcohol around the testing phases.”

A father discussing physical custody terms while reviewing a parenting plan, emphasizing the critical role of clear physical custody agreements in family law.

What are the consequences of a missed test? What are the implications of a positive test? 

These questions will vary based on personal preference and the parent’s alleged alcohol abuse. However, the Soberlink Best Practices guide offers potential solutions, including:

  • Missed test: This can be viewed as an opportunity to reevaluate the schedule and program, request additional alcohol testing, or intervene. The expert panel’s unanimous consensus is that missed test events should be dealt with using a rational discussion before becoming grounds for an immediate change to the parenting plan.*
  • Positive test: Like a missed test, a positive test can be seen as an opportunity to reevaluate parenting for that day, request additional testing, or reduce or eliminate parenting time in the worst-case scenario. The most beneficial response for the child may be an adjustment to the parenting plan that is appropriate for the situation.

A solution Hardy has seen take place in court in the event of a positive alcohol test is “step backs,” or having a parent revert to a lower level of custody or visitation. Steps may be broken down, as follows:

  • Phase 1: Visitation for several hours of the day with Soberlink alcohol monitoring in place
  • Phase 2: More time allotted with the children if there is evidence of alcohol abstinence during parenting time. May include a possible overnight.
  • Phase 3: More time, more overnights
  • Phase 4: Standard custody or possession order. Start back at Phase 1 if there is evidence of alcohol consumption or relapse to ensure the safety of children and for court orders to be straightforward. 
A therapist discussing the implications of missed Soberlink tests, highlighting the impact on custody arrangements in cases of drug or alcohol abuse.

“Having someone go back to Phase 1 automatically and starting the whole process over, to me, makes sense, and it seems to be beneficial to the client,” Hardy says. 

As the experts in alcohol monitoring, Soberlink has been helping parents navigate addiction, custody agreements, and divorces involving alcohol abuse for over a decade. Committed to keeping the best interests of the child top of mind throughout court proceedings, Soberlink is the most technologically advanced, convenient, and reliable tool in child custody litigation when there is evidence of substance abuse or alcohol addiction. Learn more about the gold standard in alcohol monitoring:

*Please note that information in this blog does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice in respect to any particular legal matter

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