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How will alcohol and drugs affect my custody case?


Going through a family law case can feel very much like your entire life is under a microscope. One common question is about drug and alcohol use and how it affects your case. The answer is truly that it depends. This brief post with focus on how it impacts your case when children are involved. 

First, let’s talk about alcohol. 

Generally speaking, if alcohol consumption comes up in the context of your case, it is very common for the court to order that you (and your spouse) not consume alcohol while the children are in your care. Even if not ordered, this can be a good guideline to follow. This does not necessarily mean you will never be able to have an alcoholic beverage when the children happen to be in your care, for example, at a family BBQ; however, at the early stages, it is good practice to be very selective about alcohol during your custodial time with the children. 

The key is to recognize if this general guideline is sufficient for safe consumption, or if alcohol use is such an issue that further intervention is required. If you, or a party in your case, abuses alcohol, the court has the power to order random testing, continuous monitoring, and even treatment. The court can order a party to attend Alcoholics Anonymous at a certain frequency, get a sponsor, and demonstrate safe sobriety before having unsupervised time with the children. 

If you do not believe your children are safe in the care of the other parent because the other parent is an alcoholic, you can ask the court to intervene.  

If you are an alcoholic, you will fare far better in this process if you are proactive about getting help. The consequences of exposing your children to alcoholism can be dire, including loss of custody, Child Protective Services involvement, limited visitation, and mandatory professional visitation supervision.

Drugs are treated similarly to alcohol abuse. But, before delving further we must differentiate what we mean by drugs. 

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in California, though it is still illegal federally. Generally speaking, the courts seem to treat marijuana use like they do alcohol use—it should not be used or consumed while the children are in your care. However, if the marijuana use goes beyond recreational and becomes a problem, then the court can take the same aggressive measures mentioned above. 

If a parent in your case uses, or is suspected of using illicit drugs, then the court can order random testing for a period of time, immediate testing, 12 step programs, and treatment as a condition to you having visitation with your children. It is important for any parent who is addicted to drugs or alcohol to seek help for the benefit of themselves and their children.

It is never easy to discuss drug or alcohol related issues when going through a divorce; and often the person abusing cannot see the outside impact of their abuse on the children.  We recommend you have an honest discussion with your attorney about whether or not drugs and alcohol is an issue in your case so steps can be taken to address any possible negative effects. 

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