In an ideal world, children would never be put in the middle of a custody battle.  Both parties would spend a modest amount of money on attorneys and reach a custody agreement on their own or in mediation without grappling with endless litigation.  Custody arguments tend to be most contentious when parents have different ideas about how their children should be raised.  For instance, one party may be into “free-range parenting” and the other may believe in filling kids’ schedules up with extracurriculars.  These issues can often be resolved with some compromising on both sides of the table. The stakes can be a bit more difficult when navigating child custody when alcohol abuse is part of your family’s narrative.

You may be dealing with an addicted co-parent or maybe you are accused of struggling with alcohol abuse. Divorce and alcohol abuse may present complex issues for child custody after divorce. You may be wondering whether there is still a way to have an amicable separation and a peaceful divorce. How can you create a safe parenting plan when there is a genuine risk of your ex drinking while caring for your kids? Flexibility can become trivial when your child’s safety is at stake.

Even if you believe your ex is vindictive and making accusations that are false or not based in reality,  the court will usually err on the side of caution, possibly resulting in limited exposure to the children if there is any risk.

If you’re worried about your ex caring for your kids when they are under the influence, or if you’re being accused of drinking while parenting, regardless of the circumstance, the judge MUST prioritize your children’s best interests and safety. Navigating child custody with alcohol abuse is present all about protecting your children and keeping them out of harm’s way.

How do you navigate a situation where you have an ex who is excellent with the kids, but lacks judgment when drinking?  How do you create a safe custody agreement that ensures your ex won’t be intoxicated while driving your kids home?  Whether both parents have issues with alcohol abuse and face losing custody of the child(ren) altogether, or one parent accuses the other of alcohol abuse and requests sole custody of the child(ren), there are simple ways to deal with either scenario, without having to sacrifice your custody rights.

Showing proof of alcohol abuse in custody cases can be relatively easy in certain situations.  For example, if a parent has a recent history of alcohol-related incidents they may attend a court mandated alcohol treatment program. Too often, however, alcohol abuse is suspected, due to reports by the co-parent’s kids, other family or mutual friends. Such allegations can be severely damaging to the relationships and trust of everyone involved.  With accusations of this nature holding so much weight, it is best to put a plan in place to ensure cohesion across all parties.

alcohol abuse child with father

Here are three tips that will help you when navigating child custody with alcohol abuse present.  These strategies will help move your family forward, keep your kids safe from harm, and keep you safe from wrongful accusations.

1.  Create a Blueprint  For Success:  Substance abuse including alcohol abuse, can play a major factor in custody after divorce.  However, creating safeguards within the custody plan will enable the children to foster relationships with both parents. Co-parents should be advised to establish realistic parenting plans.  In other words, parents should attempt to  limit custody to what will work with your family’s reality. Don’t agree to a custody schedule that sounds good in the abstract but would never work for your family. If you are navigating child custody when alcohol abuse is present you must take care to create a situation that is manageable for all. For example, some kids and parents do better with shorter, more frequent visits, whereas other families are most successful with a schedule that goes for longer stretches. A rule of thumb- minimizing stress will maximize success. Just because something works for someone else, does not mean it is the appropriate method for you.

2.  Agree to a Third Party Observer:  As much as no one wants to be “supervised” with our own children, having a third party present may be an important ingredient in your family’s safety plan. If you believe your ex is using illegal substances or drinking  during parenting time,, it may be in your best interest to agree to have a trusted third party present to create a safe custody environment for your children.  Similarly, if you’re the one being accused of drinking while you are with the kids after divorce, it may be in your best interest to have an agreed upon third party present during your parenting time, to prevent wrongful accusations. This person can be a mutual friend or loved one so the visit feels normal.

3.  Agree to remote alcohol monitoring: Historically, breathalyzers were limited to random testing procedures administered by third parties. More recently, self-administered, remote breathalyzers have become available and widely utilized in child custody litigation. Earlier versions of these devices were either unreliable or easy to manipulate (“hey breathe into this for me…”). Today, state-of-the-art facial recognition and data sharing capabilities have made alcohol monitoring systems such as Soberlink much more admissible. PLUS, Soberlink is a thoughtful way to create safeguards for you and your children by providing scheduled tests to document and send proof of sobriety in real-time. Designed with ease of use in mind, these systems allow parents to submit tests during parenting time only or daily, depending on which program is agreed upon.  Dynamic systems such as Soberlink provide parents with peace of mind regarding their child’s safety. It can be used either electively, without court intervention, or by order of the court. If it makes sense for you and your family, speak with your lawyer or a Soberlink representative about how to incorporate this technology into your parenting plan.

Why Alcohol Monitoring?

Alcohol Monitoring systems like Soberlink consist of a breathalyzer that is wirelessly connected to send real-time results. The primary purpose of the breathalyzer is to measure BAC, or blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Blood alcohol concentration refers to the level of alcohol present in your blood, and measures amounts as a means of quantifying how intoxicated you are (which would otherwise be fairly subjective).

Remote alcohol monitoring can help eliminate or reduce the need to include third parties in custody arrangements. While a third party may be necessary in some cases, they can be expensive and invasive. To reduce stress on both the parent and the child, you may be able to avoid incorporating a third party to supervise visits by implementing Soberlink into your parenting plan. Rather than fostering hearsay, you can provide court-admissible evidence that helps keep the children safe, and provides peace of mind to both parties.

By creating a blueprint for success, you are setting your family up to do the best they can. Divorce is often messy, but it doesn’t have to be. Dealing with issues like alcohol abuse during child custody litigation can undoubtedly be challenging. By following the three tips above, you are more likely to encounter fewer bumps in the road.

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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. 

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