Drug and Alcohol Addiction and Parental Rights

Drug and substance abuse is an epidemic that the United States, and specifically, Florida are currently facing. The victims of drug and substance abuse are not just the users, but also the family members of the users, usually the children of those who abuse. Though Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) attempts to intervene in home situations in which a parent is or has been using drugs so as to remove the children from potentially hazardous situations, it is not easy. This is largely because parental rights are fundamental and are guaranteed in Florida and the United States. To terminate parental rights, the courts need to be involved and there must be a showing that significant harm is imminent to the children involved.

If your parental rights are being threatened due to your alcohol or drug addiction, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney.

The Epidemic of Child Death Associated with Addicted Parents

In a study published by the Miami Herald, it was found that of the 477 child deaths that the DCF was aware of because of the children were from families being investigated by the DCF, 323 of these cases were due to one or both of the parents have a documented history of alcohol or drug abuse. The investigation of these deaths revealed that DCF investigators did not delve too deeply into the family’s history of alcohol or drug abuse, usually taking the word of the parent or parents that the family was a clean and wholesome environment. The investigation further revealed that even families investigated with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, the parents refused to submit to a drug test and their refusal carried no consequences, nor were the parents required to enter into a drug or alcohol abuse treatment program.

Repeated Drug and Alcohol Abuse Can Lead to Revocation of Parental Rights

Repeated drug and alcohol abuse, when investigated correctly, can lead to the removal of the children and court-ordered treatment of the parents. If the parents do not comply with the court-ordered treatment, then the parents risk their parental rights to the children. But just because a parent has a drug or alcohol addiction does not automatically terminate his or her parental rights. This is because Florida statute espouses the concept that it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to be raised by the biological parents, unless the parents pose a severe harm to the children that termination of parental contact is the only appropriate mechanism. The Florida courts find time and time again that the removal of the children from the family home can be traumatic, so until there is an imminent threat, it is better to keep the family unit intact.

How a Parent with Drug or Alcohol Addiction Can Maintain Custody of the Children

If you have a drug or alcohol addiction and you are going through a divorce, this addiction will not automatically preclude you from maintaining custody of your children. Courts will remove custody if they believe the parent with an addiction cannot improve and ultimately, kick the addiction.

If you are in the middle of a custody battle with your ex-spouse and you have suffered from an addiction issue, the following are ways to show that you not only have reformed, but that you are a ready and able parent:

  • First, document every aspect of your treatment. Make sure that you can present to the court any and all medical reports, any certifications and affidavits showing that you successfully went through a treatment or rehabilitation program, certification demonstrating that you passed any and all consistent drug tests, and any documentation relating to continued treatment such as attending sobriety meetings, meetings with your sponsor, and any meetings with a mental health counselor, among other useful reports.
  • Second, make sure that you have a steady job, that you are financially solvent, and that you are timely paying off any and all debts.
  • Third, make sure the home that will house your children will be clean and appropriate. Bills should be paid, and the home should be accessible for your children that they are able to maintain their routine, stay close to their friends and school, and still able to be involved in their family traditions and communities. The most important aspect is to show continuity of quality of life for the children.
  • Finally, consider any additional steps, like a parenting class, that might show the courts not only your willingness to change but that you are taking affirmative steps without being prompted.

Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.