Alcohol and Substance Abuse in Parenting Plans
Alcohol or Substance Abuse issues often need to be addressed when establishing or modifying a Parenting Plan. Protecting children from exposure to the harmful effects of Alcohol or Substance Abuse often involves placing restrictions or limitations upon a chemically dependent parent. There is no uniform rule as to what type of restrictions or limitations to impose upon this parent; instead, each case is different and the types of restrictions or limitations will depend upon the severity of the parent's chemical dependency and resultant negative effects upon the children.
In the most extreme cases, a Parenting Plan may have provisions that restrict all contact with the children. In these cases, a parent is usually an active addict who cannot maintain sobriety long enough to exercise visitation with the children in a safe manner. Although contact may be completely restricted, it is usually temporary, as the Court will often provide a roadmap for even the most extreme chemically dependent parent to navigate their way back to having access to the children. In such cases, in order to gain some visitation, the chemically dependent parent may be required to undergo treatment (in-patient or outpatient) usually in combination with a comprehensive chemical dependency evaluation. In these circumstances, following treatment recommendations and maintaining demonstrable sobriety (through urinalysis and hair follicle testing) is of the utmost importance.
The roadmap provided by the Court in a Parenting Plan is designed to increase contact between the chemically dependent parent and the children so long as the parent is progressing in their recovery. In doing so, there is likely to be a Phased-In Visitation Schedule. Beginning at the most restrictive limitation of no contact, the chemically dependent parent may progress to professionally supervised visitation, to lay supervision, to daytime visitation without supervision, and ultimately to having some overnight visitation so long as recovery is progressing. Any relapses will usually move a parent backward to a prior, more limiting Phase of the Visitation Schedule. Setting forth incremental increases in visitation in the Parenting Plan often provides the chemically dependent parent with ample motivation to maintain their sobriety as their access to the children will be expanded consistent with their recovery.
In other less serious cases, when contact is not completely restricted, a wide range of limitations upon a chemically dependent parent may be used to protect the children from the harmful effects of that parent's addiction. These range from supervised visitation, daytime visits only, or simply that the parent not drink or use non-prescribed medication immediately prior to and during their visitation time. Typically, a chemically dependency evaluation may be recommended for that parent.
In cases where Alcohol or Substance Abuse is suspected but not confirmed, drafting language that prohibits either parent from using alcohol or non-prescribed medication prior to and during visitation time may be necessary. Having such language in the Parenting Plan will sometimes go even so far as to allow the other parent to demand an immediate urinalysis if Alcohol or Substance Abuse is suspected at a visitation exchange.
In any situation where Alcohol or Substance Abuse is a concern, drafting the appropriate language in a Parenting Plan to maximize the children's protection from harm is paramount.
Family law litigation can be emotionally difficult and complex. Decisions made about each step of the litigation can affect you for many years. We have years of experience helping our clients through the difficulty of dealing with protecting children from the harmful effects of chemical dependency and can help you through the process. Contact us today at (253) 838 – 3377 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, to talk about your situation.
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