Divorce is a messy, painful thing. It’s bad enough that a marriage is ending, but too often both parties are bitter and angry, determined to fight over every last thing just to spite their spouse. The house, the car, the furniture, the money in the bank, even the wedding china that no one has touched in 20 years – anything and everything becomes a point of contention. Things become even worse when there are children involved. One parent might want them just so the other does get them, or one might be unfit for some reason. Even if there is shared visitation, working out the schedule and squabbling over perceived inequality in time can lead to more fights. Custody becomes a particular problem if one parent has a substance use disorder.
First, there are two different types of custody, legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions about a child’s welfare and upbringing, including things like education, medical services, and religion. Physical custody is as it sounds, referring to where the child is going to live. An addicted parent might retain rights related to legal custody, depending on the situation, but physical custody is a more serious matter, as the safety of the child is in question.
Judges have to balance the rights of parents with the best interests of the child when deciding custody cases. A parent who is actively using drugs might receive visitation rights, but they will likely be supervised by someone appointed by the court. This supervised visitation usually takes place at a facility designated for that purpose, or at the least somewhere neutral and public. The addicted parent is not likely to receive any sort of physical custody. If the other parent is not using drugs and otherwise well equipped for parenting, they will have sole legal and physical custody.
The “best interests of the child” isn’t always a strictly defined legal term. It can take a variety of factors into account and may vary by state. In California, for example, the relevant statute refers to the health, safety, and welfare of the child, as well as any history of abuse.
If one parent is in recovery, things become a little more complicated. The judge will want to see if they are really keeping up with treatment and remaining drug free. The court can set conditions, like the addicted parent must receive counseling or attending AA meetings. If there is evidence that this parent has a long history of drug abuse coupled with repeated failure to complete substance abuse treatment, joint parenting and unsupervised visits might be off the table.
These custody arrangements can always be modified in the future. If one parent goes through treatment and is provably doing well in recovery, he might request that the court consider modifying the custody order.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.