How Substance Abuse Can Affect Child Custody and Parenting Cases

A parent’s drug or alcohol abuse can have a detrimental impact on a child’s welfare — it can also affect the outcome of a child custody or parenting case. While parents have a Constitutional right to raise their children, a judge may terminate parental rights in extreme cases. However, if a child’s welfare would be placed at risk by being in the care of a parent who has a substance abuse problem, a judge may consider other options — such as giving the allocation of residential parenting rights to the other parent or ordering supervised parenting time.

How Does Substance Abuse Impact Child Custody Matters?

In deciding any Ohio matter dealing with the care of children, commonly referred to as custody cases, but properly called “allocation of parental rights and responsibilities” between parents, a judge would consider the “best interests of the child” first and foremost, which are defined by statute in Ohio. Critically, not only can a drug addiction or alcohol abuse problem affect a parent’s physical and mental health — it can also prevent a parent from being able to properly care for children and provide them with food, clothing, shelter, and safety. When evaluating the child’s best interests in a legal custody matter between a parent and a non-parent such as a child welfare agency, or an allocation of parenting rights and responsibilities between parents, a judge will analyze a number of factors to determine whether and how a parent’s alcohol or drug use would impact their final decision in a certain case.

When it comes to a parent’s substance abuse problems and the care of a child, the factors a court will consider in determining whether that parent can properly care for the child include:

  • The physical condition of each parent
  • The mental condition of each parent
  • The child’s relationship with each parent and other household members
  • Any history of domestic violence or abuse, not just between parents, but also between a parent and a child, or a parent and a significant other or other household member in the past or present
  • Neglect or abandonment of a child
  • A parent’s criminal record
  • Each parent’s housing stability

Significantly, court cases concerning child placement and care that involve substance abuse problems are extremely fact-based and case-specific. In addition to considering a parent’s health, a judge will also look at the direct adverse impact a parent’s lifestyle and choices can have on the child. They will also evaluate whether drug or alcohol abuse endangers the children’s physical and mental well-being, as well as their moral and emotional development. In addition, a judge would consider whether a parent is in treatment or is following treatment recommendations for substance abuse problems.

Will a Parenting (Child Custody) Evaluation Be Ordered in a Case Involving Substance Abuse Problems?

In some cases involving dependency and addiction problems, a parenting evaluation may be ordered by the court — either upon the motion of a party, the guardian ad litem for the child, or on the court’s own initiative. Specifically, a parenting evaluation is an analysis performed by a qualified individual, usually a psychologist, to assess a child’s needs and evaluate a party’s capacity to meet those needs.

A parenting evaluator will consider any instance of substance abuse and domestic violence that could impact a child custody arrangement. In addition to conducting a series of interviews with parents, family members, and professionals who know the family’s dynamics, a parenting evaluator will also review clinical tests that were administered and investigate any involvement with the criminal justice system. Some evaluations can also include a home visit or observation of the parent-child interaction. The evaluator will compile findings into a written report that is submitted to the court.

What is Supervised Visitation (Supervised Parenting Time)?

If a parent struggles with addiction, the other parent may be able to obtain the sole allocation of parenting rights (a.k.a., “sole custody”). However, even in these cases, there may be no guarantee that the children would be safe when the parent who suffers from substance abuse has parenting time. Drug and alcohol abuse can sometimes be linked with other problems, such as child abuse or neglect. If these types of safety concerns are present, a judge may order contact with children take place only in supervised settings.

Supervised parental contact allows the non-residential parent to have parenting time under the supervision of another adult while still being able to foster a parent-child relationship. But it will not be granted in cases where parents simply disagree about how their child should be brought up.

Supervised parental contact (formerly known as “visitation”) very likely will be ordered in the following situations: a parent struggles with substance abuse , there is a history of domestic violence, the parent is unable to provide a safe environment for the child, and the court wants a third party to be able to observe and report back any problems that may be present, as well as any other reason  supervised contact might be necessary for the child’s protection.

Supervised parental contact ordered in a case for parenting time allocation (formerly, “child custody case”) may be carried out by any person deemed fit by the judge. This could be a family member, or a neutral party for contact to take place in a private facility or in the community. The county child welfare agency will only supervise parental contact in abuse, neglect, or dependency cases. A court cannot order the county to supervise companionship in connection with a divorce or parenting dispute, but there are private organizations that can be utilized for this purpose.

Contact an Experienced Ohio Attorney

If you are facing a matter involving the care of a child where substance abuse is concerned, it’s essential to have a skillful attorney who can protect your rights and ensure the best interests of your children are met. Located in Green, Ohio–halfway between Akron and Canton courthouses–Melissa Graham-Hurd & Associates, LLC provides knowledgeable representation for a broad scope of family law matters, including those involving the allocation of parenting rights and responsibilities (a.k.a., “child custody”). Contact Melissa Graham-Hurd and Associates to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.