Options When a Parent Exposes a Child to Drugs
Drug and alcohol abuse are issues that can drastically affect a child’s quality of life, but is a situation a child may not be able to recognize or appreciate for its instability and danger. If child custody is shared, this habit is a true concern that needs to be addressed. Obviously, the issue in these circumstances is the addicted parent’s ability to safely and appropriately care for the child. In other words, does drug/alcohol render the addicted parent unfit to exercise parenting time without outside supervision? The child’s welfare is always a concern for the state, and the sober parent can and should bring this situation to the family court’s attention during a divorce action, or in a separate child custody suit. The potential danger of a parent high on drugs or alcohol injuring the child in a car accident, failing to provide their basic needs, or failing to properly supervise, is quite high. In fact, if a child is discovered in the same room as illegal drugs, the adults face criminal charges, as well as the potential loss of custody rights, as recently illustrated in a child custody dispute in Georgia.
Keeping a child from another parent is a tricky situation, and convincing a court to take this step is hard, but possible. A discussion of how the law views substance abuse behaviors within the context of child custody, and how to prove the child needs protection from the addicted parent, will follow below.
Child Custody Law and Substance Abuse
All custody matters are evaluated under the best interests of the child standard, which assesses whether the environment and care provided by each parent promotes the child’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Florida law assumes that both parents are fit to exercise parenting time and decision-making rights, unless evidence is produced that the parent is a detriment to the child. To determine if a parenting plan is acceptable and in the best interests of the child, the court looks at a long list of factors. One factor is particularly relevant to substance abuse issues, and looks at the ability of each parent to provide an environment free from substance abuse. While evidence of drug and alcohol use is not automatically a detriment to the child, as domestic violence issues are, it does pose a huge potential problem that the terms of the parenting plan need to address. In addition, factors related to the parent’s moral fitness, and physical and mental health are also called into question when substance abuse is present. In these situations, courts tend to be more willing to order supervised or restricted parenting time over eliminating parenting time entirely. The importance of the child’s bond with both parents usually overrides imposing the second option, unless true danger is proven.
Making a claim of substance abuse to argue in favor of more restrictive custody rights will need to be supported by evidence to be successful. Several sources of information that can be used to convince a judge to order drug testing or other more invasive evaluations include:
- Texts, emails, phone messages, or other statements by the addicted parent that admit he/she has a substance abuse problem;
- Statements from third-parties about statements the other parent made, or observations of impaired behavior; and
- Police reports and/or criminal convictions related to impaired activities or violence, particularly if the child was present.
Enough circumstantial evidence should be sufficient to convince the judge to order drug and psychological testing, as well as access to the impaired parent’s health records to see if further corroboration of substance abuse exists.
Get Legal Advice
Substance abuse is an extremely difficult situation to handle, and when children are involved, the stakes are high. If you are considering divorce, or have an ex-spouse with a drinking or drug habit, talk to the experienced family law attorneys at All Family Law Group, P.A. about the best option to protect your family. Your child’s welfare is of primary importance, and our attorneys will fight to ensure your child is safe and receives good care. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay for a consultation at no charge. They can be reached at 813-672-1900.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+