Contested Custody Cases: Protecting Your Children From An Addict Parent

Written by Rachel Aliza Elovitz

  1. Retain Competent Counsel
    Research. Ask Questions. Call your State Bar. You want a family law attorney who understands the issues surrounding physical and legal custody – someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing intimate details of your life, someone responsive, communicative, capable, thorough, insightful, a straight shooter – someone who can assist you in reaching a sound and amicable resolution to the custody and parenting time issues in your case and, if it becomes necessary to litigate, someone who can zealously and credibly advocate on your behalf.
  2. Consider a Guardian Ad Litem Appointment
    A guardian ad litem conducts an investigation in contested custody cases. The GAL will speak with both parents, visit the homes in which they intend to live with the child, meet privately with the child, observe their interations with both parents, speak with witnesses who can shed light on custody and parenting time issues (i.e. teachers, school counselors, educational counselors, child specialists, speech and occupational therapists, marriage and family therapists, addictionologists, family friends, relatives, and other third parties). The GAL can recommend that an independent psychological evaluation be done or that the parties submit to urine screens, hair follicle tests… and ultimately makes recommendations about what custodial arrangements and parameters are in the best interest of the child.
  3. Consider an Independent Psychological or Addiction Evaluation
    If you believe your spouse suffers from a substance abuse or addiction problem about which he or she is in denial – or denying, and if you can buttress your belief with facts – a spouse who, for example, is repeatedly passed out drunk at 2:30 pm when he or she is supposed to be picking up your child from school, who has repeated failed to get the child to school timely because of a hangover, who has a (not too remote) criminal history involving DUI, possession, and/or open contain convictions, has been unable to hold a job because of his or her alcoholism, who has moved from place to place since your separation, then you should speak with your attorney about whether requesting an independent psychological or addiction evaluation is wise and feasible for you.
  4. Keep A Log – In A Secure Place – And Share It With Your Attorney
    Keep a log – note those days when your son or daughter came home and your spouse was too intoxicated to get up and open the door (and the neighbor retrieved your child)…the days that you and your spouse’s family and friends tried an intervention – unsuccessfully. Keep the letters where you plead with your spouse to get help – and your spouse’s responses, if any. Make a note of each therapeutic appointment you attended with your spouse to address his or her addiction – and all of those appointments for which your spouse did not show up. Note the AA meetings from which your spouse came home intoxicated. Keep the log where your spouse cannot find and destroy it. Share the log with your attorney.
  5. Request Parenting Time Parameters
    Parameters, depending on the situation, may include things like supervised visitation, a psychological or addiction evaluation, following any recommended course of treatment (i.e. participation in AA, NA, CA, indivdual therapy and, of course, maintaining sobriety), a graduated visitation schedule, reversions back in to the supervised schedule in the event of a relapse, drug or alcohol related arrest, etc. Input from any child specialist or therapist treating the child is often instructive, as is input from the addicted spouse’s current therapist, if there is one – and a GAL would be able to speak with him or her directly.
  6. When Appropriate, Request An Emergency Hearing or Order of Protection from Family Violence
    If your spouse is not functioning well and posing a risk to your child, and if you are no longer in the home or otherwise able to safeguard your child (because you are at work in the afternoon when your child is with your spouse), either change your work schedule or speak to your attorney about requesting an emergency hearing and seeking temporary custody of your child and make arrangements for your child to be with a responsible third party (i.e. a relative, friend, neighbor, after care provider, or babysitter) until you get home from work. You should also speak with your attorney, especially if your spouse’s addiction has manifested in physical abuse, about filing a petition for protection from family violence.
  7. Line Up Your Witnesses
    Speak to your lawyer about getting a list of witnesses together who have observed you interacting with and parenting your child – making him or her meals, bathing the child, reading to the child, caring for him or her when sick, helping him or her with homework, etc. If there are third parties who have witnessed your spouse’s abuse of alcohol or any physical manifestations of that abuse (i.e. anything from passing out, vomiting, lashing out at you or your child, throwing furniture, punching holes in walls, etc.), then get those names and contact information to your attorney as well – along with any experts who have been involved with the family. Your attorney can create a list of those names and bullet points about the information they have to share for a GAL.
  8. Be a Vigilent Parent
    If your spouse is intoxicated, then take his or her keys before he or she gets behind the wheel with your child. If your child is truant because your spouse is not getting him or her to school, take your child to school yourself. If your child is not getting his or her needs met by the parent who has historically been the primary caretaker, make sure those needs are met yourself. If your child is confused or depressed or anxious over his or her other parent’s behaviors, take the child to a child therapist / psychologist / specialist – but do your homework first. Find a therapist who specializing in dealing with children from broken and addiction homes – and speak with the therapist before bringing your child in to see him or her.
  9. Safeguard Your Child’s Relationship With The Other Parent
    A child specialist can guide you on how to answer your child’s questions regarding his or her other parent’s addiction issues – in a way that a child can understand, in a way that is truthful, and in a way that does not serve to alienate the child’s affections from the other parent. If you denigrate your child’s other parent in the child’s presence, it may damage not only your child’s relationship with that parent, but cause the child to resent you for badmouthing the other parent who that child loves. Assure your child that he or she is loved by both parents, even if one of those parents might be struggling with health issues and is unable to demonstrate that love as he or she might normally be able to do.
  10. Take Care Of Yourself
    Going through a divorce, being (effectivevly) a single parent, dealilng with your spouse’s addiction – it’s a lot to handle. Consider a therapeutic outlet for yourself – and/or going to an Al-Anon meeting. Your child needs stability and consistency, and you need to make sure that you are grounded and able to provide those things in the wake of some extremely difficult circumstances.

Additional Resources

Rachel A. Elovitz is a domestic litigator who regularly serves as a guardian ad litem, representing the interests of children in custody, abuse, and neglect cases in Georgia’s Superior and Juvenile Courts. She is a regular contributor to the DeKalb Bar News.

Originally published here:–protecting-your-children-from-an-addict-parent