If you are a parent whose spouse,
domestic partner, or former boyfriend or girlfriend is accusing you of substance abuse,
or if you’re accusing your child’s other parent of substance
abuse, you have plenty of company.
“Substance abuse is a significant public health problem for people
of all ages and walks of life. Unfortunately, millions of American children
live in homes with parents or caregivers who are regularly involved in
alcohol or drug use, distribution, manufacturing or cultivation of illicit
substances,” Christopher Bergland wrote in
According to the clinical report, “Families Affected by Parental Substance Use,” the children whose parents misuse alcohol and drugs are three
times more likely to be victims of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
than other kids, and their risk of neglect is four times higher than their peers.
If you are a parent and you suspect that your spouse or domestic partner
has a problem with drugs or alcohol, or if your child’s other parent
believes that you have a substance abuse problem, you may be wondering,
“Can substance abuse impact
child custody proceedings in California?” The answer is “yes” but
it depends on the facts of the case.
Effects of Substance Abuse on Parenting
Drugs, including many prescription medications, and alcohol can definitely
impact one’s parenting abilities in many different ways. Here are
Parenting Effects of Alcohol
- A parent may pass out and therefore neglect their parenting responsibilities.
- A parent under the influence may forget to feed or bathe their child, or
they may forget to pick the child up from school.
- A parent may stay out all night at a bar and leave their children home
unattended due to the effects of intoxication.
- A parent may be an “angry drunk” and abuse their children while
under the influence.
- The alcohol could lead to depressive episodes, making the environment unstable
for the child.
- The parent may drive under the influence of alcohol with the child in the
vehicle, leading to a drunk driving crash and criminal charges.
- The parent may spend their extra money on alcohol and not have enough left
over to pay for groceries or rent.
- Parents may be unable to walk and therefore leave their children unsupervised.
Parenting Effects of Drugs
- A child’s innocent crying can be magnified while the parent is under
the influence of certain drugs, such as cocaine and it can lead to child abuse.
- The effects of a drug can cause a parent to be angry and impatient with
a child for any reason. The drugs can cause the parent to have distorted
thoughts and they can misperceive the child’s intent, leading to abuse.
- A parent who is addicted to crack can leave an infant or child home alone
for hours or days at a time as they leave the house to seek out the drug.
- CPS often has to investigate cases where homes are barren of furniture
because the parents sold it all to buy drugs.
- A drug-addicted parent may not have any food in the fridge or cupboards
because their habit makes them incapable of providing for the child’s
- Drug addicted parents can expose their children to drug dealers and in
effect, very dangerous environments and situations.
- Parents with a meth addiction may not provide their children with the proper
supervision, food, medical care, shelter, and clothing.
- The children of meth users may suffer serious consequences due to severe violence.
While the above lists may appear long, they don’t even tell half
of the story. If you would like to learn more about the specific effects
of alcohol and drug use on parenting,
Child Custody & Drug Testing
In the family court system, it is common knowledge that a large percentage
of child custody cases involve accusations of drug and alcohol abuse.
In many cases, both parents will accuse each other of substance abuse.
Often, drug or alcohol abuse issues are brought to the attention of the
family courts in the following: legal separations, domestic violence cases,
divorces, child custody cases, mediation sessions, Child Protective Services
reports, criminal prosecutions, court hearings, and pleadings and motions.
According to the
California Courts: “California Family Code section 3041.5(a) allows a court in a child
custody, visitation, or guardianship proceeding to order any person who
is seeking custody or visitation to undergo drug or alcohol testing.
“Before ordering the test, the court must determine that the person
is a habitual, frequent, or continual illegal user of controlled substances,
or a habitual or continual abuser of alcohol. That finding must be supported
by a preponderance of the evidence, which may include a conviction for
the illegal use or possession of a controlled substance within the past
In some cases, a judge does not have any hard evidence of substance abuse.
For instance, the accused parent has never been convicted of DUI, an alcohol-related
offense, or a drug possession charge. All the judge has is the other parent’s
accusation, which may in fact be 100% truthful. In this situation, the
judge has to carefully evaluate the credibility of the accusing parent’s
testimony before him or her.
Historical evidence can be very valuable to a judge, if there is any. If
the accused has any history of past drug arrests or DUI, these are red
flags that may indicate a substance abuse problem exists. Under Family
Code Section 3041.5(a), a drug-related conviction in the past five years
is evidence that can be considered when deciding if drug testing should
be ordered in a child custody proceeding.
What Can a Domestic Violence Restraining Order Do?
If your child custody case involves accusations of substance abuse, it’s
important that you fully understand your rights under California law.
We encourage you to
contact our firm to schedule a
free case evaluation with a Los Angeles child custody attorney.