How Substance Abuse Can Affect Child Custody & Visitation

Young girl counting pills

If you are accused of substance abuse or believe your child’s other parent is abusing drugs and/or alcohol, the reality is that this can absolutely play a role in what your custody and visitation agreements will look like.

The courts in Virginia take addiction and the abuse of drugs and alcohol very seriously with respect to the safety of children. In these cases, the judge will rule on what they believe is in the child’s best interests, which may not align with the interests of a parent.

Substance Abuse & a Child’s Best Interests

When a judge evaluates what is in a child’s best interests in a custody or visitation matter, an analysis is conducted to evaluate how a set of factors are affected by a parent’s use of drugs or alcohol.

These factors include the following:

  • The physical and mental condition of each parent
  • The ability of each parent to assess and meet their child’s emotional, physical, and intellectual needs
  • The willingness of each parent to participate in a close and continuing relationship with their child
  • The role each parent has when it comes to the child’s care and upbringing
  • Any other factors that the court might find relevant when it comes to deciding a custody or visitation matter

If one parent can successfully demonstrate to a judge that the other parent’s addiction or use of drugs and/or alcohol is detrimental to the welfare of their child, then it can be reasonably expected that the judge will make a decision with those variables in mind.

The risk to the parent accused of substance abuse involves losing custody and visitation rights, which can forever affect their ability to spend time with and parent their child as they see fit.

Child Custody During & After Drug or Alcohol Treatment

Addiction treatment programs usually run for around two months, which can mean spending a lot of time away from one’s child. Understandably, this tends to worry parents who are already concerned that their history with substance abuse will adversely affect the outcome of a custody matter.

If someone is currently in treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, a judge may order a custody arrangement that places the child with their other parent or another relative capable of providing care while the first parent receives treatment.

It’s important to emphasize that these arrangements are usually temporary – that means a parent who successfully completes their treatment program and remains sober has a chance to regain custody or visitation rights. Again, however, these matters are solely decided based upon what the judge deems is in the child’s best interest.

Does the Type of Substance Abused Matter in a Child Custody Dispute?

It can, because some addictions expose a child to greater risk than others. For example, the courts are more likely to grant visitation rights to someone who is addicted to alcohol than they are to someone addicted to a “harder” drug, such as methamphetamine or heroin.

What about Marijuana?

Marijuana is legal to consume in Virginia for anyone who is at least 21 years old. Despite its legality, however, concerns about a parent’s recreational use of this drug can come up during a child custody dispute.

Chief among these concerns is the parent’s ability to provide care for their child. If a parent is constantly getting high, they might not be in the proper state of mind to ensure they are providing their child with a clean, safe, and loving home.

Other concerns include the child’s exposure to marijuana and use of the drug around a child. For example, a child can be distressed by their parent’s behavior while the parent is high – especially if the child requires something and the parent is unable to adequately respond.

There are also, of course, concerns about children themselves consuming marijuana products like edibles or using their parent’s paraphernalia to smoke or vape the drug.

What Should I Do If Addiction & Substance Abuse Is a Factor in My Child Custody Case?

If substance abuse and/or addiction to drugs or alcohol is relevant to your child custody dispute, the best thing to do right now is speak with a family law attorney.

If you are a parent concerned about the other’s parent’s behavior, we at The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller can help you investigate your claim and argue for a safer custody and visitation agreement for your child. Likewise, parents who are falsely accused of substance abuse or are in recovery need advocates to help them fight for fair custody agreements – we can help them too!

For more information about how The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller can help, contact us online!

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