How to Draft a Parenting Plan when Alcohol Abuse is Involved

March 9, 2020
Little Girl Playing Guitar with Father

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 are involved, the situation becomes more complex. To maintain a semblance of normalcy, parents are often encouraged to draft a parenting plan that allows children to continue seeing both of their parents. When alcohol abuse is a factor, additional precautions must be taken to ensure that the best interests of the child are being upheld.

Alcohol Abuse and Family Law

Just as no one plans on getting a divorce when they get married, no one plans on becoming dependent on drugs or alcohol. 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 grow up witnessing alcohol abuse in the household. One in five adult Americans grew up in such situations, 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 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 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.

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 drinking, believing that if they behaved better, etc. that the adult would not drink.
  • Anxiety: As alcohol abuse 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 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. In some cases, they may also be fearful that the parent will become intoxicated in public.
  • 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, that structure may be missing,” Dr. Stern says.

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

“Generally, the other parent is worried about the safety of the child or children. They are worried about the parent driving with them and worried about their ability to care for them when they have drinking problems,” Hardy explains. Situations like this present a high-risk situation for all parties involved, including law professionals. For nearly a decade, Family Law professionals such as Charles Hardy have been using Soberlink Alcohol Monitoring in cases involving alcohol abuse to help support those in recovery.

Offering unprecedented facial recognition and robust tamper detection, Soberlink combines a professional-grade breathalyzer with wireless connectivity to deliver test results in real-time. “Soberlink is thorough. It offers validity in the process, it avoids the ability to cheat the process, and it keeps parents sober 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 as Soberlink. “Soberlink is my favorite program to use in these cases, and judges in San Antonio tend to favor Soberlink in these situations because they understand and trust it.”

Working to meet each of the needs of various Family Law custody cases involving alcohol abuse, Soberlink offers two levels of alcohol monitoring:

  • Level 1: The Level 1 program requires the parent to submit tests during parenting time only. Designed to be dynamic, this one-of-a-kind program works with any parenting 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 7 days a week. Complete abstinence is needed for this program Testing times are managed by Soberlink, which sends reminder text messages for scheduled tests and documents missed tests. An effective way to monitor alcohol use, this program typically involves a schedule of three to four tests per day during waking hours.

The Parenting Plan

Laws regarding child custody and visitation vary between each state. With this in mind, it’s important to follow individual state 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 parenting plan being accepted by the court. Orders not written using the Soberlink Order Form are not accepted as having any validity at Soberlink.

The ultimate goal of all parenting plans is to make sure the best interest of the children is being upheld. Although it may be challenging to meet with a former spouse to discuss custody arrangements, making an equal effort will result in having a stronger say in the outcome, rather than running the risk of having the court decide.

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

While drafting a parenting plan, it pays to be extremely detail-oriented. 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 debates. Other measures to consider incorporating into a plan 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 the monitoring of alcohol consumption. 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

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

“[Before Soberlink,] If one parent thought the other was drinking, they could ask for a urine test to check. 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 punish them,” Hardy says. “There was not a good method that I was aware of prior to Soberlink.”

Court-admissible and used in all 50 states, Soberlink helps alleviate he-said-she-said arguments and accusations with hard evidence.  Tests can be taken morning, afternoon, and night or specifically during parenting time, which allows for clear evidence on the individual’s alcohol use 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.

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

Including Alcohol Monitoring in the Parenting Plan

If alcohol abuse is a concern in a Family Law 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 through an FDA-cleared solution that includes automated facial recognition, tamper detection, and documented court-admissible results. Used as a tool in Addiction Recovery, as well, Soberlink can help parents on their recovery journey. For many, knowing that they have to take a test later that may influence custody arrangements can help keep them accountable and motivated. Instead of random 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. These schedules are managed by the Soberlink system and tests are to be submitted every day. For more low-risk cases, the Level 1 options is available which allows for testing only during parenting time, with schedules agreed upon and managed by the parents.

If Soberlink is involved in a court order, the 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 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 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 program. To promote progress and growth, the panel agrees that the number of daily tests could be reduced to two tests after favorable results are given over a one year.*Hardy weighs in on this, stating that he finds frequent tests throughout the day to be very important. “I like five to six tests per day, with one early in the morning and then late at night, as some people try to drink around the testing phases.”

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

These questions will vary based on personal preference and the situation. 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 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 test is “step backs,” or having a parent revert to a lower level of visitation. Steps may be broken down, as follows:

  • Phase 1: Visitation for several hours of the day with Soberlink in place
  • Phase 2: More time allotted with the children if alcohol is proven to be avoided during parenting time. May include a possible overnight
  • Phase 3: More time, more overnights
  • Phase 4: Standard possession order. Start back at Phase 1 if a relapse occurs, to ensure the safety of children and for orders to be straightforward.

“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 divorces involving alcohol abuse and maintain relationships with their children for over a decade. Committed to keeping the best interests of the child top of mind, Soberlink is the most technologically advanced, convenient, and reliable tool in child custody litigation involving substance abuse.

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

About the Author

Soberlink supports accountability for sobriety through a comprehensive alcohol monitoring system. Combining a breathalyzer with wireless connectivity, the portable design and technology includes facial recognition, tamper detection and real-time reporting. Soberlink proves sobriety with reliability to foster trust and peace of mind.

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