Addiction and Visitation With Children


Regulating Visitation

Substance abuse (including both licit and illicit drugs) can impair a parent's judgment and priorities, rendering the parent unable to provide the consistent care, supervision, and guidance children need. Addiction to alcohol and other drugs can be a chronic, relapsing disorder, and recovery can be a long term process.  Children have immediate needs to be in a safe and stable home in which they can focus their attention and time to growing up.  Balancing these factors, as parents make well intentioned efforts to provide safe and loving homes for their children, represents a challenge for judges making critical custody decisions. The potential volatility and confusion of relapse contradicts the consistent care, supervision, and guidance children need. It is often difficult to determine what level of functional improvement will enable a parent with substance abuse problems to resume or retain his or her parental role without jeopardizing child safety, particularly as relapse remains a significant possibility.

Is "In Treatment" Sufficient?

Even with treatment, not all substance abusing parents will be able to improve sufficiently to function in their parental roles.  Recovery is a lifetime journey, not a single event.  As a result, success in treatment is not likely to mean complete, permanent abstinence immediately, though progress in treatment can be observed and documented.  Judges, however, often do not know how to identify whether or not progress is taking place, and they do not have the skills, nor are they given the time, to determine the extent to which progress in treatment translates to a children's safety.


If the children were speaking to us, wouldn’t they talk not only about their father/mother and their need to have him/her in recovery, but also of their mother/father and the anxiety and fear their addicted parent had managed to create in a very strong non-addicted parent. The children want their whole world to be repaired, and that takes more than one parent's recovery. It takes time to heal the wounds. In fact, those wounds never heal. But there needs to be enough time to let some scar tissue develop.  Children know that the family is an interconnected system, and that its entirety has to be taken into account for any "solution" to do the best it can do.

How Can You Prove Your Spouse is an Alcoholic or Drug Addict?

Your own recollections, which can be included in a sworn affidavit submitted with a Motion for Testing and/or Evaluation, is credible testimony.

The recollections of others (friends, acquaintances etc.) can also be submitted.

If there are prior incidents involving the police, call your local police department with as much information as possible and request copies of police reports.

If there are incidents at work, your attorney can issue a subpoena requiring your spouse’s employer to produce their personnel files.

Your lawyer can submit the available information to a Court when custody is an issue and testing/evaluation can be ordered.

Acquaint yourself with the various tests and make certain the testing which is used is effective and cannot easily be evaded. Hair follicle testing is very effective, but not invincible…….in the words of a very experienced member of Maryland’s Nursing Board “Where there’s a wig there’s a way”!

Alcohol use is not alcohol abuse…educate yourself about the disease.

If Alcoholism Can be Proven, What Can a Court Do?

Require treatment as a precondition to unsupervised visitation.

Require a period of documented successful treatment as a precondition to starting any, or unsupervised, visitation.

Impose a “no driving while intoxicated” condition on pick up and delivery (hard to enforce, but it at least gives a custodial spouse a basis to act if there is a reasonable belief this has been violated).


If the violator is the custodial parent, change custody.

If the violator is the custodial parent, threaten to change custody unless treatment recommendations are successfully completed.To prove the use of alcohol, and if you know your spouse is driving while intoxicated, call your local police and give them his location and route. They will take it from there. Be certain of your facts.

It's Your Decision-Not Theirs!

Do not let anyone tell you what to do regarding your marriage to an addicted spouse….Accept all the advice you can get, but it is you and you alone who will live with the consequences of your decision. Beware of “answer people” who arrogate to themselves the power to make decisions about your life. That kind of advice is usually about THEM….not YOU.

Educate Yourself about Alcoholism

This is absolutely essential whether your choice is to stay in the relationship, separate temporarily or to separate with the intention of ending the marriage. Although I could do a 10 page bibliography, let me be more helpful. Go on the Internet to Getting Them Sober.  Look at Volume 4 of this beautifully direct and understandable work on separation, divorce and alcoholism. Then buy the book. The advice is worth fifty times the cost.





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