Sunday, September 23, 2012

Substance Abuse and Child Custody


The risks to children with a chemically dependent parent are countless. Intoxicated parents have a diminished capacity to supervise and protect children. They can even engage in risky behavior such as driving under the influence with the children in a vehicle or bring children into dangerous situations. Intoxication can lead to violent behavior, leading children to witness domestic abuse or even leading to become the victims of violence themselves. Even worse, children will follow the example of the chemically addicted parent and become addicts themselves

Addiction is often the cause of the disintegration of the relationship between the parents. Aside from symptoms such as abuse, neglect and habitual intoxication, chemical dependence takes a financial toll on a family. Chemical addiction is expensive and draws a great deal of family resources from household necessities to pay for the drug of choice. In many cases, the chemically addicted parent loses their job, becomes unemployable and is a financial burden on the household.

However, children in these situations love their parents, warts and all, just as any other child does. Most do not understand what is going on with between their parents and and are left wondering why they do not get to see one of their parents. While the sober parent is left in the situation of trying to protect the children from a bad situation, children often resent that parent and blame them “running off” the other parent. The emotional impacts on the children can run very deep.

There are a number of resources that the Courts can use to help children and families in situations with chemical dependent parents. The Courts can allow a child to see a chemically dependent parent with supervision. While many times these visits are supervised by a trusted relative or friend, the Court can rely on professional supervisors. Professional supervisors are usually trained and can supervise the interaction between the parent and child in a neutral setting or even sometimes in a clinical setting. While professionals come with some level of expense these supervisors can provide reporting back to the Courts insuring safety and guidance for future visits.

Supervised visits are usually augmented with a regimen of substance abuse counseling and drug testing. A good counselor can make the difference and bring an addict back from the brink of self destruction. When treatment is court ordered as a part of a parenting plan, it gives the treatment some teeth and makes it mandatory as a matter of law. Testing also is a significant part of the parenting plan for an addict. It not only insures compliance with the treatment but it insures that the children are not placed in the hands of an intoxicated parent. Many plans require testing both before and after a visit to insure that the parent did not consume any substances during the time with the children.

Successful participation in substance abuse treatment and testing in most instances will result in a relaxation of supervision requirements. As parents learn how to cope with their addictions, they are able to more engage in a less restrictive relationship with their children. However, there is always a heavy burden placed on the parent that is not addicted to remain ever vigilant to protect the children. This parent too can suffer a great emotional toll.

Overcoming chemical addiction is never easy for a family, especially as that family breaks up. Placing the interests of the children first is always the concern of the Court as well as the obligation of the parents. Courts can help the parents maintain an appropriate relationship with their children and protect their safety. There is no quick easy answer to dealing with a chemical dependency issue but with treatment, supervision, testing and patience the situation can become manageable. To best deal with this situation, consult an experienced child custody lawyer.



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