Addiction Issues and Custody
Courts are increasingly recognizing that addiction to drugs or alcohol is not simply a “choice” that one can easily escape through abstinence.
In custody matters, the best interests of the child(ren) involved in a custody action is always the foremost concern. However, it is not always necessary to completely separate an addicted parent from their child(ren) in order to protect the child(ren)’s best interests. Instead, courts (and the conciliators, attorneys, and others involved at various steps along a custody case) generally attempt to find the least restrictive custody arrangements that will keep children safe while also fostering their relationships with their parents who are experiencing addiction. For example, it is frequently appropriate for an addicted parent to have supervised custody visits (at a center or supervised by an individual), or to have regular phone contact with their child(ren).
As a parent who is experiencing addiction works through recovery and wants to exercise more, or unsupervised, custody time, there are often conditions that they must fulfill to satisfy the court that they are sober and do not pose a risk of harm to the child. A §5329 evaluation is frequently required of parents with a drug- or alcohol-related convictions, such as a DUI (see our article “Risk of Harm (5329) Evaluation” for more detail). A §5329 evaluation involves a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional evaluating a parent’s drug and alcohol use history, criminal history, and other factors such as their support system and input from family and friends, in order to make a determination as to whether or not that parent poses a “risk of harm” to their child(ren) and if so, to what extent.
Oftentimes, drug and alcohol testing will be included in custody orders, especially when addiction issues are known to be present in one or both of the parents. Sometimes, the drug and alcohol testing will be required on a specific, scheduled basis. More often, random drug and alcohol testing can be requested by one of the parents to be completed by the other, when they are concerned that the other parent is abusing drugs or alcohol.
If you would like to discuss your particular custody circumstances in more detail, contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 for a consultation with one of our attorneys.