Alcohol and Substance Abuse and Child Custody
When it comes to child custody, the court has the authority and discretion to consider a wide array of factors to further the best interest of the child standard. One such factor is the physical and mental health of the parent. Impairment of one parent in a child custody dispute that stems from alcohol or substance abuse may raise a number of legitimate concerns about that person’s ability to parent.
In Powers v. Powers, 130 N.C. App. 37, the Ashe County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed juvenile petitions, alleging that all four of Angela P. Powers’ children were abused and neglected juveniles. During the initial custody hearing, the trial court considered Angela’s alcohol abuse and found that Angela was driving with the children while she was impaired. The trial court awarded Angela custody of the children with the following conditions: “(1) she remain absolutely sober for 6 months, and possess no alcoholic beverages during that time; (2) she participate in a substance abuse assessment and comply with the recommended treatment program; and (3) [Herman] Finley move out of her residence and remain out for six months.” Then, in 1996, it was argued that Angela continued to drink in the presence of the children in direct violation of the court’s orders, and that she was placed in the local detoxification center. In 1998, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s orders determining that all four children were neglected juveniles.
Alcohol or substance abuse by one (or both) parents in a child custody proceeding raises legitimate concerns about the child that the trial court must consider when determining the best interest of the child. A problem with drinking and driving, one of the factors considered in Powers v. Powers, may cause the court to implement measures to further ensure the safety of the child while in the care, custody, and control of a parent battling alcohol or substance abuse issues. Courts have ordered parents to wear a continuous alcohol monitoring system that continuously tests for alcohol levels through the skin. Courts have also ordered for the abusing parent to submit to routine urinalysis and/or hair follicle drug tests. All measures help to ensure the safety and best interest of the child.
While courts take many factors into consideration when determining the best interest of the child—including alcohol or substance abuse by one parent—there are measures that parents can take of their own accord to show the court they are on the path to recovery. While recovery takes time and effort, the court will consider the parent’s efforts in recovery when determining child custody and the best interest of the child.