Most Family Law attorneys will encounter a child custody case involving alcohol. Whether representing the parent accused of alcohol abuse or the concerned party, there are vital questions attorneys should consider when developing their approach to these cases.
Assessment of Alcohol Abuse Allegations
Family Law attorneys must first identify the alcohol abuse issues in the custody case to address them effectively. For example, if alcohol abuse is contested, the accused party may not want to agree to give up parenting time to the concerned party. In this instance, the accused party’s attorney will want to strategically focus on establishing that their client has no problem with alcohol.
By contrast, if the accused party does not contest that they have a history of alcohol abuse that has put their children in harmful situations, they may still seek to retain visitation rights. In this case, the attorney for the accused party will want to work to restore trust through methods such as alcohol monitoring and taking an incremental approach to increasing parenting time.
Questions related to alcohol abuse allegations for attorneys to consider include:
- Who is accused of misusing alcohol? One or both parents?
- Is the allegation of alcohol abuse contested?
- Have the children been placed in dangerous situations, such as riding in a car with an intoxicated parent?
- What child custody issues do the parties agree on or disagree on?
- Are there other current or past legal proceedings related to alcohol abuse?
State of Alcohol Abuse
The current status of alcohol consumption also plays an essential role in advising clients on likely outcomes and formulating custody case strategies. A history of alcohol abuse is unlikely to play a significant part in child custody determinations where the accused parent has been sober for over 15 years. However, sometimes this does happen due to the weaponization of the disease. Regardless, in such cases, the Family Law attorney representing the accused party will want to emphasize the length of sobriety and the lack of impact on the children.
Questions related to the state of alcohol abuse for attorneys to examine include:
- Is the accused parent still using alcohol?
- If sober, how long has the party abstained from alcohol use?
- What types of treatment and counseling are being used to remain sober?
- Is there a history of alcohol relapses?
- What types of treatments were or were not effective in the past?
- Is this a co-parent’s attempt at weaponizing the disease of addiction?
Attorney Bias and Training
Alcohol abuse is prevalent in the United States, and many people are influenced by their own relationships and experiences with alcohol. It is common for people, including attorneys, to believe false narratives about alcohol abuse – including the once prevalent misconception that if a parent has relapsed, they should have their visitation privileges revoked to maintain the best interest of all parties involved.
It may be appropriate to seek additional training and education to further an attorney’s understanding of alcohol abuse. Taking an informed approach to litigating custody cases involving alcohol helps attorneys better advocate for their clients and protect the children’s welfare.
Some questions attorneys can ask themselves regarding bias and training are:
- How might my biases and personal experiences impact this case?
- Do I have sufficient education regarding alcohol abuse and addiction treatment?
- What CLEs or other resources can I turn to for additional information?
Balance of Interests
In custody cases today, courts want to facilitate a shared parental relationship that benefits children while prioritizing their wellbeing. Attorneys for all parties should evaluate this balance of interests when developing time-sharing proposals and general case strategies.
Questions related to the balance of interests for attorneys to consider include:
- Is it possible for the children to safely spend time with the accused parent?
- What solutions might be developed that help ensure the accused parent is sober while still allowing parenting time?
- Is there potential to use mediated or collaborative proceedings to reach a resolution?
- Are the children at risk now, or is the focus on preventing future harm?
- Does the parenting plan need to be modified?
In custody cases involving (or allegations of) alcohol abuse, alcohol monitoring is an effective tool for providing objective information about a parent’s alcohol use so children can remain safe while spending time with both parents. Attorneys representing clients in such cases should, at a minimum, determine if alcohol monitoring is needed.
Questions related to alcohol monitoring for attorneys to consider include:
- Would alcohol monitoring help in this case?
- What is the goal of monitoring (to ensure safety during visits, maintain sobriety, or disprove alcohol abuse allegations)?
- What type of monitoring is best for the situation?
- How long will the monitoring continue?
- What will the key terms of the monitoring agreement be?
- Will both parties agree to monitoring, or will it be contested?
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