The overriding priority of Family Court judges across the country is to provide for the best interest of the children. When one or both parents in a custody case are struggling with alcohol abuse, the child's wellbeing is at risk.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), ten percent of American children live with a mother or father who abuses alcohol. More than 7.2 million children will experience the lifelong consequences of alcohol-related family dysfunction.
Implications of Having a Parent with an Alcohol Problem
Children with a parent who struggles with alcohol can develop attachment disorders that persist throughout their adult life. This exposure may result in a child's inability to cultivate trusting relationships, withdrawal from social situations, and even an aversion to affection. Adults who observed family conflict and alcohol-fueled arguments or violence during childhood are more prone to experience excessive anxiety, feelings of abandonment, and fear of confrontation, which often manifests into avoidance behaviors.
Warning Signs Attorneys Need to Watch Out For
Representing a parent in a divorce or custody dispute requires Family Law attorneys to remain vigilant in detecting signs of alcohol misuse or a co-parent’s attempt at false allegation. When the opposing party’s attorney alleges that your client has engaged in alcohol-related misconduct, you must be able to pinpoint the telltale signs of your client’s alcohol use to help you determine if their condition is, in fact, grounds for limiting their parenting time. Consider the following factors when assessing if your client's consumption is interfering with their parenting:
- Is the client missing work?
- Does the client keep appointments and timely respond to your information requests?
- Is the client’s appearance disorganized, unkempt, or disheveled?
- Has your client kept up with parenting responsibilities?
- Does your client have any history of DUIs or chemical test refusal?
- Is there marked redness in the client’s face, nose, or cheeks?
- Does your client have frequent bruises or injuries?
How Custody Decisions Are Made When a Parent Has a History of Alcohol Abuse
Family Court judges are famously cautious when exposing children to a parent whose alleged alcohol use is interfering with their daily life activities. When alcohol use becomes problematic, the judge will reduce or prevent parenting time until the Court is assured that interactions between the child and the parent are safe.
Alcohol misuse, before or during parenting time, can lead to a child's physical injury from negligent supervision, a DUI accident, or harsh discipline. Psychological damage can also result from the child witnessing their parent’s intoxication, e.g., slurring or stumbling. The Court's paramount value will always be in the child's best interest.
Family Court will not risk these outcomes by taking a chance on a parent with alcohol abuse or alleged addiction issues without sufficient evidence of a substantial period of sobriety or evidence that some measure of control can be exercised before and during parenting time.
What to Expect When Representing a Client in an Alcohol Case
If you represent the party alleged to be misusing alcohol in a divorce or custody case, expect them to resist or deny the existence and severity of an alcohol problem. Oppositely, if you represent a client who is falsely accused of abusing alcohol, understand that remote alcohol monitoring is an effective tool to help them document and provide proof of sobriety. Alcohol abuse, like other substance addictions, carries a sharp social stigma that strongly affects the user's self-perception during active addiction. Moreover, past substance abuse is often weaponized in court to overshadow a co-parent’s recovery progress or discredit their ability to parent.
Counsel should advise their client that they risk losing visitation with their children until they have resolved the problem to the Court’s satisfaction, such as sobriety support through treatment and compliance monitoring. Advanced technology can also be beneficial in providing evidence of persistent alcohol abstinence.
Strategies for Dealing with the Presence of Alcohol in a Custody Case
Whether you represent the concerned parent who fears their child’s exposure to the accused parent’s alcohol misuse or you represent the parent struggling with or accused of alcohol abuse, portable remote alcohol monitoring technology can supply reliable, secure data on alcohol consumption.
Both parties to a custody dispute benefit from the reliable data collected by devices like those designed by Soberlink.
Soberlink’s remote alcohol testing device produces electronic results that can be transmitted in real-time. The affordable alcohol monitoring program may be used during parenting time only or for daily testing, depending on case severity.
Client Alcohol Use Solutions for Family Law Attorneys and Family Law Professionals
Until recent years, the Family Court lacked a credible, unassailable source of evidence in child custody cases where alcohol abuse was a factor. The only way for parents and child custody lawyers to prove or disprove a party’s alcohol abuse was through witness testimonies, anecdotes, and allegations.
Innovations in technology, like Soberlink, now provide both sides in custody cases with objective and reliable data on a co-parent’s actual alcohol intake during any testing period. The alcohol monitoring devices can reduce litigation and provide peace of mind to the concerned party, who would otherwise doubt the sobriety of their spouse or ex-spouse.