Coparenting Through Divorce: Drug Use, Drug Testing, and Family Court
Divorce isn’t easy, and the process can be even tougher where the case involves minor children. When emotions are heated, each parent may jockey for position in trying to gain an advantage with custody and visitation. In some situations, one may accuse the other of drug use – regardless of the truth of the matter. With trends showing that around 1 in 10 Americans have used drugs within the last thirty days, a court will most definitely take notice.
Once the issue is raised, it could have serious implications for your divorce case. Therefore, an overview on drug use and testing in divorce cases may be useful.
The Relevance of Drug Use in Divorce
In general, courts are concerned with a parent’s drug use in divorce because it affects determinations on child custody and visitation. Most US states require a judge to review the child’s best interests in making these decisions. Substance use and abuse are among the factors a court will consider.
Specifically, drug use impacts a judge’s decision on child custody and visitation in three areas:
1. Ability to Make Responsible Decisions on Child-Rearing
Parents must make decisions regarding important aspects of the child, such as education, extracurricular activities, religion, healthcare and others. It’s a shared responsibility when the family lives under one roof, and many courts will continue the arrangement when ordering joint custody.
However, a parent’s ability to make responsible decisions in these areas is affected by drug use. A judge may be unwilling to allow joint decision-making, and grant authority to the other parent.
2. Responsibilities During Parenting Time
Visitation is also a key consideration in divorce, and a court will usually allow mostly-equal parenting time between the parties. Most judges recognize that the child’s best interests are served by having a relationship with both parents.
When a parent is exercising visitation rights, he or she is 100 percent responsible for care, safety, and well-being of the child. Drug use interferes with these duties because it affects the user physically, emotionally, and cognitively. A judge may refuse equal visitation or could require supervised visits only. In extreme situations, the court may even deny parenting time entirely because the parent cannot be trusted to provide proper care.
3. Logistical Concerns
To a lesser degree, drug use may affect a court’s decision on custody and visitation because of logistical issues. A parent who is under the influence of controlled substances cannot legally drive, which could lead to disruptions with the parenting time schedule and the child’s activities. The child could miss out on sports, school, social events, and other opportunities because the parent is too impaired to operate a vehicle – not to mention presenting a serious safety risk.
Drug Use and Drug Testing in Divorce
There’s no legal requirement that parents automatically be tested for drugs with every divorce case that involves minor children. The issue will only come up when one party introduces allegations of substance abuse as it relates to custody and visitation. Usually, there must be more than a mere accusation. Judges know emotions are heated in divorce, and a party may make extreme, exaggerated statements in an attempt to sway the court.
Still, if there are verifiable facts that one parent uses drugs, a judge is likely to order him or her to submit to drug testing; the judge may even order both parents if there are competing allegations. A positive test could impact decisions on custody and visitation as mentioned above.Even if the court is convinced that the shared parenting is still an appropriate arrangement, that individual may be required to undergo random testing on a continuing basis. Under these circumstances, a positive test could lead to a modification of custody and/or visitation.
Related: The 10 Most Common Reasons for Divorce.
Drugs from the Court’s Perspective
Not all drugs are the same in terms of the effect on the user, and judges usually recognize this.
The court will likely look differently upon legal versus illegal drugs, prescriptions versus over-the-counter, and other factors. Plus, as marijuana has been approved for recreational use in some states, pot may be a lesser concern to a judge.
Other controlled substances will no doubt raise red flags in a divorce court, however. Cocaine can trigger addiction after just one use and may cause long-term brain damage. Heroin causes euphoria followed by an extensive period of drowsiness, and impairs mental function. Opioid use has reached crisis and epidemic levels in the US, so you can be sure that it will have an impact on custody and visitation decisions.
Wondering if and how your kids will recover? Read Will the Kids Be All Right? The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children.
Resources for Drug Use and Testing in Divorce Cases
If allegations of drug use have entered the picture in your divorce, there are resources available to help you address the situation. Your divorce lawyer is a valuable asset, but you may also benefit from retaining divorce coaching and support services. It’s important for you to be honest with the professionals who serve you so you ensure your best strategy for moving forward in the healthiest way. These knowledgeable professionals can assist with your case and will have your back when you need it most.
As a late teen, Billie Tarascio’s parents divorced. She was very aware of the role that her parents’ attorney was playing in her life. She wanted to do that in a positive way for other people. After graduating from law school, most of the people who needed her help couldn’t afford her service. Her primary goal was to lower the cost of legal services for clients, and reduce accounts receivables for the firm. Her company Access Legal emerged. Billie is passionate about her career and work and has made a difference in hundreds of clients lives. You can contact Billie through the following channels: Website: https://mymodernlaw.com/
Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional and often times complicated experience of divorce. If you are seeking an education on best practices for coparenting as you support your children through one of the toughest moments in your lives, you will want to know about Gaia’s Group, SAS for Women’s virtual group coaching class for coparenting mothers. We all need a thoughtful, committed plan for helping our children weather and move beyond separation and divorce.
Very helpful. I will forward on to my clients that are dealing with these issues.
Thank you, David, for writing and for thinking of how you can share this with people you know, challenged by the situation.
You are a thoughtful pro.