Negotiating Parenting When There is Alcohol Abuse
By: Kathleen Hassett
Abuse of alcohol is frequently an issue in divorce matters. For separated
or divorced parents, alcohol abuse is of special concern regarding parenting
time with the children. The Courts generally acknowledge that children
need and benefit from ongoing and consistent time with both of their parents,
as long as the parenting time remains in the best interest of the children.
Judges and lawyers seek solutions to this issue that allow for parenting
time while ensuring the safety and well-being of the children. There are
many options for parties to consider when negotiating an agreement for
a parent struggling with alcohol abuse, and those discussed below are
just a few that may be a solution to this critical issue.
The Custody Agreement or more appropriately called a Parenting Plan should
be drafted with the goal of allowing the parent experiencing alcohol abuse
to have the opportunity to maintain or build a meaningful relationship
with the children, without compromising the health and safety of the children.
To initially understand the gravity or degree of the addiction, the Parenting
Plan may require a parent to submit to an alcohol evaluation and to follow
the recommended treatment plan. Ongoing counseling with a mental health
provider specializing in addiction may be required. To avoid placing the
children in a dangerous situation, the Parenting Plan should require the
parent to refrain from consuming alcohol at, any time, or for a specified
number of hours prior to and during the visitation. If the parent fails
to refrain from consuming alcohol as directed in the Parenting Plan there
should be agreed upon consequences. Parenting Plans may state that if
a parent consumes alcohol in violation of the Agreement, that parent’s
custodial time will be temporarily supervised or suspended until further
agreement of the parties or a court order.
A professional parenting coordinator is another option to help the parents
cope with alcohol abuse and its effects on the family, while facilitating
parenting time. Typically a parenting coordinator works with separated
or divorced parents to establish consistent rules and routines for the
family during and after the divorce and to assist the parties in resolving
parenting disputes and disagreements. When alcohol abuse is an issue,
the parenting coordinator may take on the role of a neutral third party
who is unbiased in their assessment of a potentially dangerous or unhealthy
situation for the children. The parents may agree in their Parenting Plan
for the parenting coordinator to have the ability to change the visitation
arrangements to avoid unsafe circumstances for the children.
Another option is for the parent abusing alcohol to agree to see a mental
health professional who is trained and experienced in counseling individuals
experiencing alcohol abuse or dependency. The professional should complete
an independent assessment of the parent’s alcohol use and determine
a treatment plan for the parent. Parenting Plans may be negotiated to
require the parent to undergo the assessment and adhere to the recommended
treatment plan in order to continue the custodial schedule.
It is advisable to include a provision in the Parenting Plan that allows
for monitoring alcohol consumption. If there is evidence of drinking contrary
to the parties’ agreement parenting time may be suspended. Proof
of drinking may come from a third party who is present and witnesses it,
obvious inebriation of the parent, or an alcohol testing device. There
are affordable devices available to parents that monitor alcohol consumption
ranging from over the counter spot checking kits to real-time blood alcohol
testing devices that operate through cell phone providers. These devices
can be used to determine if a parent has been drinking prior to or during
his or her parenting time.
These are just a few of the Parenting Plan provisions that may be included
to address alcohol use concerns. The attorneys at ShounBach are experienced
in handling divorce and custody matters involving alcohol abuse and will
provide you with options and sound advice to achieve the best possible
outcome for your particular situation.