Jacob shares custody of twin girls with his ex-wife, Sarah*. Things had been going along smoothly until he noticed Sarah began showing up late to pick up the girls and he discovered she had relapsed and was using drugs again. Sarah was in denial and refused to return to treatment.
Jacob didn’t want to do it, but he phoned his attorney to discuss changing their child custody and parenting schedule plans. He couldn’t risk the danger his ex-wife’s addiction might pose for their girls’ safety, not to mention the example it was setting for them.
Families affected by addiction face special challenges when it comes to child custody issues. Regardless of which side of addiction parents finds themselves, most desperately want to keep their children healthy and safe.
According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration about 1 in 8 children in the United States aged 17 or younger are residing in homes with at least one parent challenged by substance use disorder.
This study notes “although many children living in households with a substance-using parent will not experience abuse or neglect, they are at increased risk for child maltreatment and child welfare involvement compared with other children. In addition, these children are at an increased risk for engaging in substance use themselves.”
When addiction issues become a child custody concern, an attorney with specific knowledge and personal experience in substance and alcohol abuse can make all the difference.
Atlanta divorce attorney Pete Chambers understands this from a very personal perspective. Chambers recommends, “The disease of addiction and custody issues can be addressed effectively with a commitment to active recovery. We help clients put safeguards in place to protect child safety and parental rights; while on the other hand, we encourage and help clients seek the recovery they need to have a safe and active role in their child’s life.”
Recovering Addicts & Child Custody
Maintaining safety and stability for the child is always a priority when judges are deciding custody matters. When divorce is impacted by one (or both) parents battling addiction, the court will most likely rely on a professional evaluation by a trained and qualified mental health expert to assist in determining what is in the best interest of the child.
Parents in recovery need to confirm to the court that they have successfully completed an alcohol or drug treatment program, provide evidence of successful ongoing recovery (typically through drug tests and active participation in rehab treatment aftercare programs), participation in Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar support program/network, and proof that they are committed to remain drug- and alcohol-free (usually with continued drug testing and frequent participation in AA meetings).
Parents in recovery will also need to accept a “step-up” program or “safeguard measures” in place for a defined period of time.
The process may seem arduous, but the goal is to help the parent battling the disease of addiction achieve safe, stable, long-term recovery, reunification with their children, and permanency.
Losing Child Custody Due to Addiction
Parents can, and do, lose custody of and/or parenting time with their children due to active addiction or substance abuse. Parental substance use can affect a child’s academic performance, social interactions, and family dynamics, as well as the child’s safety and well-being. The court takes this issue very seriously.
A National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare report found that in 2019 an average of 38.9% of children removed from the home were removed for substance-use-related concerns.
Reasons why the court might determine a parent should lose custody and/or parenting time of their child includes:
- Failure to fulfill parental, work, home, or school obligations
- Putting oneself or others at risk or harm (DUI, physical or emotional abuse)
- Substance-related legal problems, such as possession of illicit substances
- Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent interpersonal or social problems
- The child being unsafe or at risk of harm due to parental substance abuse
- The child being unattended or neglected due to parental substance abuse
However, custody loss and/or parenting time can be avoided (or regained) when an addicted parent makes a commitment to recovery. With the help of an attorney who understands the legal challenges presented by addiction, parents can avoid becoming another statistic.
How An Attorney Can Help
Despite how it may feel when you’re in the middle of it, the courts want children to have an active relationship with both parents. Having both parents involved in raising the child is one of the court’s first priorities in determining what’s in the child’s best interest, so removing a child or refusing shared custody and parental visitation isn’t preferred.
Your attorney should have extensive knowledge and understanding that addiction is a chronic, progressive, and sometimes fatal disease and not merely a lapse in judgement, moral failing, or a lack of willpower.
Atlanta divorce lawyer Pete Chambers strongly believes, “Failure to seek recovery from habitual intoxication or drug addiction can be grounds for a modification to child custody and/or parenting time. But when a parent is committed to recovery, I will fight for their child custody rights and parenting time.”
This is exactly when you want a tough, respected, and well-versed attorney.
What Should You Do Now?
If you are the parent battling the disease of addiction or the co-dependent parent concerned about your child’s safety due to an addicted spouse, Chambers Family Law can help.
Our attorneys have personal experience in the challenges addiction presents during divorce and in the subsequent years when child custody or parenting schedule modifications might need to be addressed.
We are equipped to successfully provide non-judgmental, compassionate assistance when child custody issues arise. Speak to a Chambers Family Law attorney right now at 404-795-5090.
*Client names changed for privacy