Child Custody: Impact of Alcohol & Substance Abuse
Alcohol addiction and substance abuse can limit a parent’s ability to carry out their parental responsibilities in an effective manner and ensure a safe and healthy upbringing for their children. Therefore, California courts consider a parent’s alcohol or drug problem as an important factor when determining custody and parenting plans.
Testing for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Under Family Law ¬
Alcohol or substance abuse issues sometimes come up in Orange County family courts during divorce and child custody cases. According to the California Family Code, the courts can order alcohol or drug testing for any person who wants to seek child custody or visitation rights as a parent or guardian.
The law requires the courts to first determine whether the person is a continual, frequent, or habitual abuser of alcohol or controlled substances. Such finding of the court should be backed by evidence, such as a conviction within the last five years regarding illegal possession or use of drugs. Based on these facts, the court may order an alcohol or drug test.
The evidence for ordering this test may include:
- • The person admits to alcohol or substance abuse
- • There is medical evidence of such abuse
- • Eyewitness accounts from third parties are available
- • A law enforcement agency has issued a written report
- • A social welfare agency has issued a written report
Sometimes no hard evidence of alcohol or substance abuse may be available before the court, except an accusation from the other parent. The accused parent may have never been convicted of a drug possession or alcohol related offense. In this situation, the judge will carefully evaluate the other parent’s testimony, but will seek some current or historical evidence that support the accusations.
In some cases, alcohol or substance abuse issues may arise after the court has issued a custody order. In this situation, you can approach the family court through an experienced custody order modification attorney in Orange County and present hard documentary evidence against the co-parent. Such evidence could be in the form of a Child Protective Services agency report or DUI conviction report.
These types of compelling evidence may result in the judge modifying the custody order to restrict the other parent’s access to the child. The judge may change joint custody to sole custody for you, or may impose supervised visitation on the other parent.
When You Test Positive for Substance Abuse
Under California family law, substance abuse is considered a form of child abuse. If the judge determines that you have tested positive for illegal drugs, it will be a persuasive factor in finalizing the child custody or modification order. The judge may impose:
- • Supervised visitation
- • Specific “safe zones” for child pick up and drop off
- • Not meeting the other parent
- • Changing the custody order from joint to sole custody
However, an experienced Orange County child custody lawyer can explain you that for the courts the best interests of your child are usually fulfilled when the child has access to both parents. Therefore, your testing positive for substance abuse does not automatically take away your child custody or visitation rights. However, it does make a favorable outcome more difficult for you.
Accessing Rehab Records of a Co-Parent
To find evidence of the co-parent’s continual alcohol or drug abuse, your divorce attorney in Orange County can help you access their rehab records through a court order. These medical records are considered confidential and under California you can only access them pursuant to a court order for the purpose authorized by the court.
How to Regain Your Child’s Physical or Legal Custody?
Under the ASFA (Adoption and Safe Families Act), you will be granted some time to achieve successful rehabilitation, which can lead to the restoration of your parental rights. Before these rights are restored, the court will review your compliance with its orders, and whether you have completed the specified substance abuse rehab program (which could be of one, two or three month duration).
You should know that the court’s decisions in matters of parental substance abuse are not necessarily permanent, and a change in your situation can lead to a change in the court’s position. With the help and guidance of your child custody attorney, you can meet the court’s expectations and regain custody or visitation.
Steps after Completion of Rehab
Once you have successfully completed your rehabilitation program, the family law court in Orange County will evaluate your records and determine whether you should be awarded custody or visitation rights. You should focus on finishing all the mandated levels of your rehab therapy, participate in an aftercare program and be determined to gain permanent freedom from the addiction.
Failure to complete the recovery and treatment programs or a pattern of relapses will make your custody battle more uphill and you may be deprived of your parental rights for a longer time. Your attorney will support you to demonstrate before the court that you have gone through a profound change of situation, and a favorable custody or visitation arrangement now would be in the best interests of your children.
Get Legal Help from a Dedicated Child Custody Attorney
Whether you are concerned about the alcohol or substance abuse problem of your ex-spouse which puts your child at risk, or you on the other side of the fence who needs to prove your fitness as a co-parent before the court, you will need solid legal help in either case. Consult with a focused and committed child custody attorney in Orange County to present a strong and effective case before the court.