Child Custody Rules When One Parent Has Drug or Alcohol Problems

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Child custody and parenting time is a stressful issue for parents under the best of circumstances. However, if your co-parent has drug or alcohol problems, it can become a huge battle. Many parents have objections to how courts react to allegations against a parent. If you are on either side of this situation, it is helpful to understand what the courts are likely to do and why.

New York courts utilize a ‘best interests of the child’ standard in deciding which parent should have custody. Absent abuse or neglect, courts want both parents to have time with their children. Each parent is seen as having equal right to a relationship with their child. As a result, judges will not limit parenting time simply because one parent objects to the behavior of the other. If you are the parent seeking to limit the other parent’s access to your child, you must show that the other parent has a drug or alcohol problem and that it is in fact interfering with parenting of your child. However, even where such a showing is made, the court will likely put conditions on parenting time, rather than eliminating it completely.

Among the conditions the court can impose on a parent with drug or alcohol problems is regular drug and alcohol testing. For example, a parent may be required to take a breathalyzer test like SoberLink when picking up the child for visitation and during visitation. A treatment program may also be required in order to permit visitation. Once the parent can demonstrate he or she went through a treatment program and is drug-free and/or sober for some period of time, the court may end the restrictions on parenting time.

While some parents want to cut off the parent dealing with addiction, the courts will still endeavor to maintain a relationship so long as it is in the best interests of the child. A parent who is genuinely seeking help and complying with requirements will be given consideration. However, where there is abuse or neglect of the child, appropriate changes to custody and parenting time will be made.

It is important to note that neither parent should limit or poison interactions between parent and child. Interfering with the relationship without the benefit of court order can leave a parent subject to allegations of failing to promote the other parent’s relationship with the child or, worse, parental alienation, which could adversely affect his/her own custody and visitation rights. Parental alienation can occur when a child refuses to see their other parent and it is demonstrated that your behaviors created or exacerbated that child’s animosity towards his/her other parent.

If your co-parent has drug or alcohol problems and as a result, you are seeking a change in custody or visitation, document instances of troubling behavior and contact us to discuss how to address your concerns.

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