Can a Recovering Alcoholic Get Child Custody?

If you’re a parent recovering from alcohol addiction, here’s the good news: you may still eligible for child custody. There are many considerations that go into the decision to award child custody below are common scenarios, along with how they might be viewed and handled by family courts.

Generally speaking, the notion of custody is not entirely black and white. First, there are various types of custody – legal and physical, which impact living arrangements and decision-making, respectively. Custody arrangements separate the two sometimes subtly and sometimes quite distinctly. It really depends on the individual situation, the judge handling the custody case, and the state custody laws that exist wherever the family involved is residing.

Alcoholism and custody

A child custody case, in and of itself, can be quite daunting. This is particularly true if there’s a messy divorce involved. Add alcohol into the equation and things become even more complicated. For example, when a parent in a child custody case is an alcoholic, this definitely isn’t something the judge is likely to ignore. In fact, it will be a major factor in the decision-making process when granting custodial rights.

When the alcoholic is in recovery, however, a long-term period of sobriety is usually viewed favorably by the judge, but individual circumstances are still weighed accordingly. Just like the subject of custody itself, every alcoholics’ situation is different. Here are some common scenarios, along with how they might be viewed and handled by family courts:

There’s a history of violence or other harmful behavior that accompanies alcoholism

The well-being of the child is always going to be the judge’s primary concern in a custody case. That being said, if the alcoholic parent has a history of child abuse, spousal abuse, reckless or neglectful behavior that accompanies his or her alcoholism, these will probably have a negative impact on a custody case. Even if the alcoholic has been in recovery for a while, the judge still isn’t likely to be lenient. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but a history of violence isn’t going to get swept under the rug when it comes to custody matters.

The alcoholic parent does not acknowledge that he or she has a drinking problem

If an alcoholic parent in recovery doesn’t recognize that he or she has a problem, the judge will likely be hesitant about awarding them any custodial rights This can happen in situations where they’re simply going through the motions of attending twelve-step meetings or getting into treatment because of a court order, or to get a spouse off their back. Judges still must review these cases carefully, especially when there’s a hostile spouse accusing the other parent of being an alcoholic out of malice. If the judge determines that there’s alcoholism present and the alcoholic parent refuses to recognize it, however, then they probably will not be granted custody. Unless and until they’re voluntarily seeking treatment, thus accepting that they have a problem, then the custody status isn’t likely to change.

The alcoholic recently gave up drinking

If the alcoholic parent recently got sober, the judge, more often than not, will want them to prove that they’re maintaining their recovery. That being said, the decision to get clean is admirable. When alcoholics show genuine remorse for past bad behavior and a willingness to do the work to stay sober, judges are typically sympathetic and will take this into consideration. Patience during this phase is key. With time, dedication, and a proven period of extended sobriety, it’s common for judges to modify cases and grant extended or full custodial rights.

There’s long-term recovery

If the alcoholic parent has been sober for many years while working a solid recovery program, this will almost invariably be taken into consideration, typically leading to a positive outcome. If he or she has double-digit sobriety––like ten years or more, for example––it’s likely to be a non-issue altogether. This isn’t to say other factors won’t impact custody. For instance, if there’s a history of violence, child neglect, or other abusive patterns independent of the drinking, then being in recovery won’t matter. The alcoholism itself, however, shouldn’t affect a custody decision if the alcoholic has been sober for a very long time.

The presence of alcoholism certainly doesn’t need to end badly for the alcoholic in a custody case. In fact, one parent with long-term recovery quite often ends up being the fittest of the two when it comes to their ability to raise children responsibly. A good alcohol recovery program, whether it’s AA, addiction therapy, or similar can have a profound impact on an alcoholic’s life and, in turn, a very positive impact on custodial rights.

A remote alcohol monitoring tool like BACtrack View serves as a great way for those suffering from alcoholism and alcoholics in recovery to rebuild trust with their family during a custody case. It all begins with honest communication and a genuine willingness to stay sober.

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