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Addiction, Parental Rights and Child Custody - A Primer

Of all of the emotional child custody disputes that arise in the course of a family law case, many of the most troubling swirl around substance abuse, addiction and how to handle restoration during or after a period of rehabilitation. During the period of active addiction, truly awful things frequently occur - abuse, neglect, emotional manipulation and childhood exposure to very adult misbehavior and criminal concepts. For most people who are suffering from addictive conditions, once courts intervene, all but the ones in their most extreme phases of denial will acknowledge that their parental involvement should be restricted (if not suspended altogether) while they get their lives on track. What happens afterward is where the difficulties arise.

from long experience

Seeking child custody after rehab means that a parent must be willing to work hard and engage in lengthy period of supervision to determine if they are behaving like a good parent. This can make a parent feel self-conscious, unworthy, like a criminal, a terrible parent. For that parent, hearing the testimony and allegations of prior conduct in family courts can often feel degrading, especially when they're told that even after working through rehab, it just isn't enough.

An addict's best intentions are not enough - courts have heard these over and over again, and are typically unmoved because they have heard them many times before, from thousands of people who failed. What the court will consider the most are the facts of what is best for the child. Years of substance abuse do not get cancelled out by a 30-day treatment program, unfortunately, and those parents suffering addiction need to understand that. There needs to be a recognition of the harm wrought to all, and that includes the affected children and other parent or caregivers, and that recognition will explicitly include the willingness to work through the issues that led to the problem.

The family court will look for numerous indications that a child will be able to spend time with the recovering parent in a safe environment and be properly cared for, which means that if the court is provided evidence of any indication of the opposite, that renewed contact will not resume.

Real change is rooted in evidence. Acting as a parent is more than just keeping up appearances, but providing proof that the recovering addict is serious about transitioning into a better, safer lifestyle so as to properly parent the child and provide positive guidance. Below are a few tips on how a recovering addict can indicate to a judge that they are working hard to regain child custody after rehab:

- Complete any recommended addiction program and retain documentation;

- Attend recovery groups on a regular basis;

- Take and pass frequent drug screens, preferably in the form of hair follicle tests, and don't wait to have them court ordered. Retain the documentation;

- Constant attendance at all court hearings in appropriate clothing, with polite, attentive demeanor;

- Abide by the court orders, and avoid arguing with the other parent or caregiver about the restrictions;

- Keep a clean, child friendly home;

- Find work and dig out of debt, making sure to pay special attention to support obligations;

- Take parenting classes and attend any and all therapy which the court believes is in the best interests of the child;

- Participate enthusiastically in any therapy with the child designed to transition the addicted parent back into the child's life.

There are no guarantees, however, judges do recognize legitimate effort when it occurs, and will assist to the extent that the child will benefit from an enhanced relationship and restored contact.