You and your spouse are separated and going through a custody battle. You went to a party Saturday night and had one too many beers and on top of that, you had smoked pot. You made the stupid decision to drive home and got a driving while impaired charge. The cop also saw your marijuana pipe on the floor but decided not to charge you. Where do you go from here? What evidence helps the court decide how and when an addicted parent should see a child?
Let’s take a step back and discuss substance abuse in general.
Substance Abuse whether in the form of alcohol, drugs or prescription pills has become an increasingly common problem in the matters related to divorce especially when children are involved. A drug or alcohol addiction does not mean you can’t ever see your child again. Children need both parents, and a court will take notice if the addicted parent takes the appropriate steps to deal with and control the addiction. We aren’t talking about attending a single AA meeting, going to therapy one time or taking one or two random drug screen tests. A real commitment with proof of results is needed to prove to a court a person is dealing with an addiction. If you are the sober parent worried about the addicted parent, you would certainly want evidence to show the addicted parent is, in fact, struggling with substance abuse.
Regardless of whether you are the addicted or sober parent, the steps below are factors a court would consider in determining and assessing sobriety.
What can be done to show a parent is working on his or her addiction?
- Attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Meetings or Meetings for Drug and/or Other Addictions
- Random Alcohol/Drug Screens
- Soberlink Breathlyzer Device
- Psychological Evaluation
- Substance Abuse Evaluation/Counseling
- Out Patient or Long-Term Rehabilitation
Attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Meetings or Meetings for Drug and/or Other Addictions. Whether the issues are with alcohol or drugs, the addicted parent should find a support group such as AA and attend regularly. Follow the steps the organization sets out that shows progress is being made, such as gaining chips with AA. One or two meetings is not going to cut it. The addicted parent must commit to the program and show the court real progress. If the addicted parent does not follow through with the meetings, then certainly the other parent can use this to show the addicted parent is not improving and willing to take the necessary steps to recover and remain sober.
Random Alcohol/Drug Screens. With any addiction, relapses are always the concern. Committing to random alcohol/drug screens is a way to show the court a parent is committed to recovery and are willing to prove he or she is drug and/or alcohol-free. Of course, random screens are not fool proof, but it can prove very useful to spring the test on the addicted parent at any time and any place with short notice to have the test completed. The parties or the parties’ attorneys should locate the drug testing facility convenient for the addicted parent and agree on the time frame for the test to be completed after it is requested. The element of surprise and quick turn around for the test is key so that a person is really held accountable for his or her actions if in fact, the person is continuing to abuse drugs and/or alcohol. The tests should be over an extended time, not just a week or two. At least a few months of random tests are needed to know whether the addicted parent is committed to recovery. If the addicted parent fails these screens, this would be a red flag for the court regarding sobriety.
Is there a device that gives immediate results about blood alcohol levels?
Soberlink Breathalyzer Device. This device is a great tool to provide immediate results regarding blood alcohol level. It is a handheld breathalyzer device. The device uses facial recognition technology to ensure the correct person is using the device and then confirms blood alcohol level. The results are either sent by text or email to the concerned parent. This would allow the concerned parent reassurance that the other parent is sober throughout the visitation. The test could be performed before, during and after a visitation to ensure the entire visit is safe.
Are Soberlink results admissible in court?
There is the potential these results are admissible in court. This issue should be discussed with your attorney before the use of the device begins so that the appropriate steps are followed for admissibility in court.
For more information on Soberlink click here
What else can assist a court in these types of cases?
Evaluations with trained professionals as discussed below are very helpful in substance abuse cases. In fact, a court relies heavily on the determinations of these types of evaluations in certain cases. A judge cannot physically be in the home with the parties so having the input of a neutral professional that gets to know both sides and provides unbiased feedback on either side assists, judges as they hear a case. The judge will then have additional unbiased information with which to determine what is the best outcome for the case.
Psychological evaluation. Voluntarily submit to a psychological evaluation and follow all recommendations. If you are the parent who fears the other parent has an addiction, you would definitely want to consider asking the other parent to voluntarily submit to the evaluation or make a motion requesting same. Of course, these evaluations may be harmful or helpful to your case depending on which side you are on so understanding the pros and cons of this type of evaluation is very important.
Substance abuse evaluation/counseling. The parties or parties’ attorneys should find a respected, impartial substance abuse counselor that you can meet with the addicted parent and have the parent commit to a regular meeting schedule. The addicted parent should also follow through with any recommendations suggested by the counselor.
Out Patient or Long-Term Rehabilitation. If a parent’s addiction is severe and local resources are not enough, then the best option may be an out-patient or long-term rehabilitation facility. If you are the addicted parent, you should consider whether this is the best course of action to take. Likewise, if the other parent truly believes the addicted parent needs such care, then that parent should ask the court to order this type of treatment.
What other evidence is helpful to the court to show recovery from addiction?
Consistent Behavior. Don’t be late to appointments or meetings for any of the programs you may participate. Don’t be late for any drop-offs or pick-ups for the child or children. Be able to call witnesses into court, if needed, that can testify to consistent behavior. Good witnesses are coworkers, friends, and family that see you on a regular basis and can truly testify to how you act. A person that does not see you regularly would not make a good witness. The quality of witnesses is always a critical part of every case no matter which side you are on.
Physical Appearance. Drug and alcohol abuse can often be seen in the physical appearance of a person. Glassy, red eyes, messy appearance, disheveled clothes—just to name a few. If you are the addicted parent, any time you will be at any meeting, out in public, or in contact with the other party, dress neatly and appear clean and put together. Don’t show up five minutes late to a meeting with no shower and a messy appearance. Why do you ask? Say it is time for court and you want to call a witness that has seen you a regular basis such as your son’s teacher. The last thing you want the teacher to say is you show up late for meetings or that you appear messy or disheveled. You want the teacher to be able to say you are prompt and well put together. Appearance is everything!
Where to start?
One or more of the above actions may be helpful in a particular case no matter which side you are on. If you are the addicted parent, you will need to participate in one or more of the above courses of actions. If you are the sober parent, you most definitely will want to request the addicted parent to engage in one or more of the above courses of actions or make a motion to the court requesting same. The parties would need to evaluate which courses of action are most appropriate in a given case.
If a parent’s addiction is resulting in behavior that is grounds for a Domestic Violence Protective Order, then the other parent should pursue obtaining the order. It is important to understand Domestic Violence Protective Orders and the procedures needed to obtain one.
For more information on Domestic Violence Protective Orders click here