How Can Drug and Alcohol Use Affect Child Custody Decisions?

In the course of a custody proceeding, many issues may be brought to the table.  It is not uncommon for one spouse to make accusations of drug and alcohol use of the other spouse, regardless of the extent of the use.  Whether you are bringing the use to the attention of the judge, or you are facing accusations, it is important to understand how this may affect the proceedings.

Obviously, the court’s goal in any child custody determination is to provide a parenting arrangement which is in the best interest of the child. The use of drugs and alcohol can have an impact on any family, and especially it impacts the children’s welfare.  With that in mind, the courts do weigh the circumstances surrounding a parent’s drug and alcohol use when making a child custody determination. 

When making a determination on child custody, the court will weigh the totality of the circumstances.  Therefore, although drug or alcohol use may be alleged, the court will consider the extent of the use, and whether it has or would have any effect on the children.  For instance, if a parent makes a one-time mistake of recreational use, the Court will weigh it against whether the parent will engage in the activity again.  Additionally, if the use is more than recreational, the court will consider efforts by the parent to become sober. Thus, the court will sometimes look into a therapy record to see if the parent is improving, and whether there is any evidence that the use will continue going forward.

Furthermore, when drug or alcohol accusations are made, the judge will often order one or both of the parents to submit to testing.  If a parent fails the court-ordered drug or alcohol test, the court may require the parent to complete drug or alcohol treatment classes before making a determination.  The Judge may also require the parent to submit to additional testing going forward.  If the parent completes the treatment classes and does not fail subsequent tests, they may convince the court that they are committed to sobriety. On the other hand, if a parent is unable to complete the classes, or fails consecutive tests, such a parent will be judged to be an inappropriate caregiver.

While complete denial of custody rights is a drastic measure, there are also lesser options that the Court may choose.  For instance, the court may limit the parent to “supervised” visitation, or therapeutic visitation depending on the circumstances and needs and safety of the child. The Court has consistently ruled that it is beneficial to a child to develop a relationship with both parents.  Therefore, the Court will attempt to foster a healthy relationship for the child if it feels it can effectively do so.

A parent with current drug or alcohol problems should enter treatment before beginning a custody case. That treatment should include regular drug/alcohol testing.

While it can be overwhelming to navigate the complexities surrounding your rights as a parent, seeking the guidance of an experienced New York family law attorney may be crucial to protecting the best interests of your child. Contact the family lawyers at Mangi and Graham. They have extensive experience in negotiating and litigating child support and related matters in both Supreme Court and Family Court and can help you settle your dispute. Call (516) 294-1949 for more information, or contact us to book a free consultation.