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getting custody when you suspect substance abuse

Indiana Child Custody: Getting Custody When You Suspect Substance Abuse by the Other Parent

Dec 28 2019, by Sean Hessler in Family Law

You want your child to be safe and happy. You want to feel secure and confident that your child’s welfare won’t be an issue when he or she spends time with the other parent. If substance abuse is part of that person’s life, it can cast a deep, dark shadow on what should be a loving time with the other parent. If substance abuse is clouding your child custody arrangement, contact Hessler Law PC.

Substance abuse may be a new issue for the person or a longstanding problem that the other parent can’t shake. No matter the situation, your child’s welfare is your paramount concern. He or she will not be safe if the parent is intoxicated, impaired, hungover, or strung out on alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two.

What is custody?

There are two types of custody:

  • Legal custody: This can be awarded to one or both parents, depending on what’s in the best interests of the child. With legal custody a parent can make decisions for their child on critical issues like religion, education, and healthcare. A parent with sole legal custody can make those decisions without consulting the other parent. If legal custody is joint, the two must work out what should be done.
  • Physical custody: This can also be divided between both parents or be given primarily to one parent. Physical custody concerns with whom the child is living. Joint physical custody need not be equal. Ideally, the parents will work out reasonable solutions to the issue of who will spend how much time with the child.

If a parent doesn’t have legal or physical custody, unless he or she abandons the child, that parent is normally given visitation rights, or the ability to spend time with his or her child. If it’s believed the parent can’t responsibly supervise the child, the visitation can be supervised by a court-appointed social worker or a trusted family member or friend.

Navigating Custody and Substance Abuse

You may be formalizing the custody arrangement and substance abuse is an issue at the start of the process or it may rear its ugly head after a custody order was issued. Either way, the first step is to try to negotiate with the other person a path to ensure your child’s welfare.

Ideally, the other parent understands the problem and is willing to undergo treatment. If that’s the case, supervised visitation is a step to maintain parental ties while keeping your child safe. If, in the future, the parent has taken control of the situation, is sober, willing and able to be responsible, the two of you could talk about a more permanent custody agreement.

Depending on the parents, even in the best of times, a child custody or visitation agreement may be very difficult or impossible to work out. If one parent is abusing alcohol or drugs and is in denial about the situation, an agreement can be that much harder to reach.

What a Court May Decide and Why

If that kind of agreement can be made, it can be brought to a judge to be part of a court order. If an agreement can’t be worked out, there will be hearings to determine what kind of custody or visitation arrangement would be in the best interests of your child. The factors used to make that decision include:

  • The age and sex of the child;
  • The wishes of the parents;
  • What the child wants, especially if he or she is at least fourteen (14) years of age;
  • The interactions and interrelationship between the child and the parents, siblings, and others who impact the child’s best interests;
  • How well the child adjusts to the home, school, and community;
  • The mental and physical health of those involved; and
  • Evidence of domestic or family violence.

If substance abuse is an issue, the court will likely take action if it impacts the parent’s ability to care for the child, or he or she poses a danger to the children’s well-being. If one parent accuses the other of substance abuse, the judge should investigate the issue to decide if the claims are accurate, and if so, the impact on his or her ability to properly care for the child.

The judge’s job is to decide what course of action will be in the best interests of the child. This takes into account each parent’s fitness, including alcohol and/or drug use. If there’s a history of substance abuse, the judge will probably look at what happened during that time, before making a custody decision.

If there’s a custody order in place and allegations of substance abuse arise, the judge may restrict the parent’s contact with the child by changing the order. Supervised visitation may be ordered if there’s credible evidence to back up the claims so the parent can still see his or her child but in a safe and controlled setting.

If you believe the other parent is abusing alcohol or drugs, contact our office so we can effectively raise this issue with the judge. Incidents that support your concerns should be documented, witnesses should be interviewed and they may testify in court. Other evidence can be police reports, DUI charges, and other arrests made due to the person’s addiction or substance abuse including possession or selling illegal drugs, disorderly conduct, assault, battery, or vagrancy. The fact the other parent became unemployed or injured him or herself while intoxicated, or is in active treatment, can also be used.

If you legitimately believe there’s a threat to your child’s safety because of the other parent, a restraining order or refusing visitation with the other parent may be justified. Fear that your child could be harmed is a valid reason to refuse visitation and demonstrates your legitimate concerns.

How Hessler Law PC Can Help

We have helped many parents deal with challenging and highly personal custody issues, and we understand what you’re going through. Experienced Indiana child custody lawyer Sean Hessler knows how our local courts handle custody disputes, and our team can help you through every step going forward.

To speak with a knowledgeable Indianapolis family lawyer about your child’s custody status, contact Hessler Law today at (317) 342-9287 to schedule a free, initial consultation.