Parents going through a divorce will likely have many disagreements when it comes to child custody matters. Some involve personal preferences, like which holidays are most important, while others involve clear legal matters, like how much child support is appropriate.
Still others are more complicated. These can include matters of parental fitness.
When is a parent fit to raise a child and when is it best to reduce a parent’s ability to see their own children? This question is common when one parent struggles with or is accused of having a problem with substance abuse.
How serious is substance abuse?
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) conducts an annual survey to gather data about substance abuse. According to the most recent data, over 61 million people used illicit drugs at least once over the last year and 46 million meet the criteria of having a substance abuse disorder.
Substance abuse is a problem for many reasons, including the fact that it can harm the user’s health and result in poor decision making. This is of particular concern when that individual is tasked with caring for a child.
How does use of illegal drugs impact child custody cases?
Most states have laws in place that address the issue of substance abuse and parenting. Some consider it child abuse to have drugs present within the family home and most have laws that make it a crime to expose children to illegal drug activity. If in this situation, the state may consider removing the child from the family home.
But what happens when there is not one family home? What happens when the parents are divorcing, and one struggles with substance abuse? In these situations, the courts will take various factors into account when making child custody decisions.
How do California courts handle substance abuse and custody determinations?
In California, the law generally requires judges take any history of drug use into account when making child custody determinations. In some cases, the state may find a parent abuses or neglects their child if the parent is unable to provide adequate care because they are under the influence of a controlled substance. Either of these factors will make it difficult for a parent to win custody of their child.
Although difficult for a parent who struggles with substance abuse to win a custody case, the courts may still consider supervised or unsupervised visitation options. Supervised options could include the requirement that another individual be present during the visitation period, such as a professional social worker or retired law enforcement officer. Parents who are struggling with abuse can also help their case by agreeing to seek treatment. This can help them to build a case in favor of increased time with their children.
The most important factor to consider when navigating these discussions is the best interest of the children. Not only is the best interest of the children the legal guidance the state uses to decide these matters, but it is likely the goal of every parent: to do what is right for their child.