The Impact of Alcohol on Custody Cases: When Monitoring Is Necessary

The Impact of Alcohol on Custody Cases: When Monitoring Is Necessary
September 7, 2022
|   updated:
March 25, 2024

Family Law attorneys and practitioners know all too well how often alcohol is an issue in child custody cases. This post will discuss the evolution of views on custody and alcohol abuse, how alcohol abuse issues arise in custody cases, when Soberlink alcohol monitoring may be warranted which can streamline litigation.

Evolution of Views Towards Custody and Alcohol Abuse

Time With Both Parents Is Important

Baby boy holding hands of his parents

Historically, child custody was a win-lose proposition where one parent was "awarded custody," and one parent was allowed to have "visits" with the children, often every other weekend. Generally, the Courts gave full custody of the children to the mother. This is no longer the approach in the United States.

Over the past 25 years, the approach to child custody in the United States has evolved rapidly. Today, the law recognizes that both parents have the right to spend time with their children and that children benefit from substantial time with both parents. In fact, in many states, the default presumption is that the children should share time with both parents. Additionally, many state laws have moved away from the divisive term “custody” and more toward collaborative wording like “time-sharing” and “parental responsibility.”

Alcohol Abuse Recognized as a Disease

The view of alcohol abuse in the United States has also been evolving. Alcohol abuse was once perceived as an individual failure. While some stigma remains today, through science and public education, it has become well-known that substance abuse is a disease, not a moral failing. It is also a common occurrence.

Fortunately, new treatment options to fight the disease have and continue to be developed. Additionally, getting help is less stigmatized than ever before.

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Custody

Child’s Best Interests Trumps All

In all 50 states, the child's best interest remains the well-known cornerstone consideration in Family Law. The analysis involved in determining these best interests is a balancing test where courts can consider any factors that impact the child's safety, health, development, and overall well-being.

For example, in Florida, Fla. Stat. §61.13 provides a long list of factors that Florida courts may consider when determining what is in the child's best interests. These factors are a guide, not a limitation. They include the reasonable preferences of the child that is mature enough to provide them, the capacity of each parent to care for the child’s developmental needs, and the demonstrated capacity of each parent to create a consistent routine for the child.

Alcohol Abuse Considered in Determining the Child’s Best Interests

Substance Abuse Counselor Trying to Determine Best Interest for Child

Every state evaluates whether substance abuse is a factor in determining what is in the child’s best interests. Some states expressly include it in their statutes as a factor to be considered when making custody decisions. For example, in Florida, the “demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse” is one of the many factors for consideration expressly stated in Fla. Stat. §61.13.

Alcohol abuse is considered at all stages of custody cases. It is considered by courts when determining (a) whether a parent will be provided time-sharing, (b) the amount of time a parent will be given, and (c) whether a custody schedule should be modified.

Alcohol Monitoring as a Tool in Custody Cases

Historically, evidence of alcohol abuse was primarily based on credibility determinations since it turned on witness testimony. Today, alcohol monitoring can provide a more accurate, reliable picture of a parent's alcohol use or abuse.

When Alcohol Monitoring May Be Warranted

Alcohol monitoring may be court-ordered or agreed to by parties in Family Law cases. While in the past,  the concerned parent or the Court initiated alcohol monitoring, today, it is increasingly common for the attorney for the accused parent to initiate it as a means of proving sobriety and rebuilding trust.

Family Law practitioners should consider alcohol monitoring as a tool to help balance the recognized benefits of time-sharing with both parents while ensuring the child's best interests remain paramount.

Alcohol monitoring may be warranted in custody cases for the following reasons:

  • Ensuring that one parent remains sober during their time-sharing time with the child
  • Helping incentivize a parent to maintain sobriety
  • Serving as objective evidence of sobriety where continued sobriety is disputed
  • Facilitating the rebuilding of trust between the parents following a history of alcohol abuse
  • In most cases, monitoring is an interim tool that may eventually be phased out.

Soberlink Monitoring Is Ideal for Family Law Cases

Explaining the Soberlink Monitoring Device during Family Law Meeting

The purpose of alcohol monitoring in a Family Law case is not to punish, and the monitoring system chosen should reflect that. Soberlink is particularly well-suited for alcohol monitoring in Family Law custody cases because it:

  • Provides easy-to-use breathalyzer technology that allows testing to be done anytime, anywhere
  • Offers facial recognition and tamper detection features that make results reliable and admissible in court
  • Is remote and discrete and does not require users to wear a device or go to testing centers
  • Is a monitoring tool, not a punishment, meaning testing is never randomized
  • Provides real-time results that can substitute supervised visitation in appropriate cases

Soberlink is committed to continuous improvement, making it a prudent choice for Family Law providers and their clients. Soberlink also teamed up with The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) to create the Soberlink Bench Card, a 4-page guide designed to help judges make safe, fair, and effective decisions for alcohol misuse in child custody cases.

Learn More About Soberlink

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