When a Co-Parent Is Abusing Alcohol or Drugs

- Gary E. Williams

Florida family law awards time with the children to both parents after a divorce unless one parent is judged to be unfit. This includes behaviors that pose a risk of danger to the child, particularly sexual or domestic abuse and neglect. A substance abuse problem can also compromise the ability of a parent to provide consistent, secure care, and children should not be in an environment where substance abuse is the norm. Proving that a former spouse has an alcohol or drug addiction is not always easy, however.

Substance abuse is not specifically mentioned in the Florida family law statute, although it can be interpreted under the “moral fitness” or “physical and mental health” clauses. Family court must take all allegations of substance abuse seriously, even though it is evident that some parents make false accusations in an attempt to limit the parenting time available to the former spouse.

If you know or suspect that your former spouse has a substance abuse problem, speak to your family law attorney about your legal options. Once it is alerted, the court may take the following actions:

  • Order an alcohol or drug test
  • Consider evidence showing history of abuse
  • Consider witness testimony, including interviews with your children

None of these actions guarantees that the abuse can be identified. Screening tests are not foolproof. The court may take previous rehabilitation efforts into consideration, or even order the parent to attend rehab as a condition for continuing the parenting plan. In addition, substance abusers are often adept at manipulating others and hiding their addictions.

Before you make a substance abuse allegation against your ex-spouse, discuss the situation with an experienced family law attorney. If the problem is serious, you may want to modify your parenting plan.