The consequences of struggling with alcohol are far-reaching. In addition to affecting physical and mental health, job performance, and employment status, a history of alcohol abuse can affect a parent’s share of joint custody of their children. Even as people work hard to overcome their personal demons, the court may take a track record of struggles under consideration during divorce proceedings.
Struggles with alcohol don’t necessarily prevent any contact with children. The goal of the court is to keep both parents involved in a child’s life whenever possible, and sanctions on visitation and custody rights aren’t something that judges take lightly. However, you should understand how alcohol abuse can affect child custody, as it quite often does.
Restrictions on Drinking
To have unsupervised visitation rights, a judge may order a parent to refrain from drinking alcohol before or during a visit, to model positive behavior for the child and maintain sobriety in the situation. The court will usually arrive at this conclusion after consulting with addiction counselors who can affirm that the parent is in a recovery program and has been taking substantial steps toward sobriety. These particular conditions may be contingent on beginning or continuing participation in a recovery program such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or by passing court-ordered drug tests.
In cases where a parent has failed to meet these terms or when a judge believes that such restrictions would not go far enough, the court may insist upon supervised visitation sessions for a parent. These will often take place in a neutral and public setting such as a childcare facility, and will occur under the watchful eye of a court-appointed supervisor—traditionally a social worker, who will oversee the session and report back to the court. In less severe cases, the court may designate a family member as a supervisor for visits at private residences.
Loss of Custody
Extreme alcohol abuse can affect child custody in even more severe ways. If one party can substantiate its claims that the other parent’s struggles with alcohol are unsurmountable to the point where they can’t care for a child or children, the court may have no choice but to award sole custody to the parent who successfully made those claims. While this only happens in rare cases, some instances may force this severe response.