Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Custody Disputes

Father walking with daughter in park
September 25, 2017
|   updated:
July 11, 2023

Child custody decisions are among the most notoriously difficult rulings any judge will ever make. When the safety and well-being of a child are at stake, our legal system should take great pains to ensure the best possible outcome is obtained for the child.

Obviously, when the stakes are this high, either parent’s potential drug and alcohol use can be a key factor. Addicted or intoxicated parents simply can’t be expected to place the child’s physical safety and emotional well-being at the center of their decision-making processes; for example, consider this 2011 case, in which a father drank heavily and then allowed his 9-year-old to drive him around during his custodial weekend with her.

Custody Based on Evidence

As judges consider the best way to distribute custodial time between parents, then, it’s reasonable for them to weight the potential impact that either parent’s drug or alcohol habits will have on the child. If you believe your spouse’s habits or addictions impede their ability to reasonably care for your child, it’s crucial that you find a way to get factual evidence of those habits into the court record.

Because you are obviously an interested party to the case, your word alone won’t be considered sufficient evidence to impact the ruling in most cases. You’ll need actual evidence of substance abuse: a witness, a social media post, a text message—something that indicates your spouse has an issue with alcohol or drugs. You won’t need to prove it definitively—just provide enough evidence for a court to order an alcohol and child custody evaluation. After that, it will typically be the job of a forensic psychologist to evaluate your claims and any evidence that your spouse’s use of drugs or alcohol has placed your child in danger.

Visitation Rights

Parents who battle addiction may be refused visitation rights at all; more often, they are limited to visitation in the presence of a court monitor or other supervisor. However, courts tend to look favorably on parents in rehab; often, a parent’s love for their child is a large enough incentive to motivate them to change their lifestyle.

Because of this, it’s fairly typical for parents in rehab to be granted supervised visitation, or for parents who’ve had visitation suspended to see their rights reinstated once they enter rehab. On the other hand, the court may terminate all parental rights for a parent with a history of addiction or substance abuse who completely refuses to get treatment.

Important Considerations

Laws in your state may vary; it’s always wise to seek the advice of your attorney in determining the best course of action. You need to know things like:

  • What will the court accept as proof of neglect or endangerment?
  • If I suspect my child is in harm’s way, how do I get immediate emergency custody?
  • If I suspect my child will be in harm’s way later, how do I terminate or modify a visitation or custody arrangement?
  • If my spouse is petitioning to regain custody or visitation, what will it take for them to succeed?
  • What behaviors could result in termination of parental rights?
  • Can the court make my spouse submit to drug or alcohol testing prior to each visit? What is necessary to make that happen?

In general, most experts agree that children should be kept out of acrimonious custody disputes if at all possible; however, the physical and emotional dangers that go along with a substance abuse issue mean that it may well be worth the fight.

Read more information about custody and alcohol or call (714) 975-7200 to learn more about using Soberlink for alcohol monitoring in Family Law cases.

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.

Learn More About Soberlink

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