Protecting Your Children from Parental Substance Abuse: Legal Actions and Resources

If your former spouse has a problem with alcohol and/or drugs, it can severely affect their ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for your children

Texas courts recognize the devastation that substance abuse issues can cause in a family. As a result, they have put many systems in place to deal with suspected and confirmed substance abuse by a parent.

The courts also recognize another unfortunate reality–many parents who have alcohol or drug abuse issues will lie about those issues and attempt to hide their use.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, there are also many parents who will falsely accuse an ex-spouse of having alcohol or drug problems in order to get what they want in terms of custody, spousal support, division of property, etc.

For this reason, there are fairly rigorous standards that are employed and procedures in place to deal with bad actors like these. There are also programs designed to help parents who have a substance use disorder regain partial or full custody of their children if that parent decides to get treatment and stay sober.

To fully understand how all this works, you need to know how the courts view custody and the parent/child relationship generally.

How Texas Courts View Custody

Texas courts follow a specific code when it comes to child custody known as the Texas Family Code.This Code provides a simple standard that is supposed to underlie all decisions the court will take with respect to child custody-that is the “best interest of the child” standard.

According to law, this is the “primary consideration of the court,” and in most cases, Texas courts operate under a series of presumptions about what “best interest” means.

One of those presumptions is that children do best when both parents are joint managing conservators, sharing in decisions related to the child. Neither parent should be barred from making decisions regarding the child, if possible.

Because of this, courts usually do not just take someone’s word for it that a parent has a drug or alcohol problem, nor will they revoke a parent’s  rights without due process. They need to see convincing evidence of the claim, and though they will take allegations seriously, they take each parents’ rights seriously as well.

By the same token, courts are generally open to people changing their behavior and proving that their are fit parents, and most courts are willing to give custody back to a parent who has demonstrated change by getting sober and (usually) completing various requirements, like taking a specific number of drug tests, going to drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation, or completing an anger management course.

Essentially, this means that you need some form of proof that the other parent is actively abusing alcohol and/or drugs in a way that endangers your children.

What to Do If You Suspect (Or Know) Your coparentHas an Alcohol or Drug Problem

If you think (or know) that your co parent is abusing alcohol or drugs, you need proof. In some cases, this is easy to provide–if your spouse has had run-ins with the law over their alcohol and/or drug problem, you just need to obtain copies of police reports, arrests, convictions, etc. Your attorney should have no trouble obtaining these documents and providing them to the court.

However, if they haven’t ever been arrested or charged with anything, you’re going to have a harder time.

You need some form of proof, be it eye-witness statements from third-parties, video/audio recordings of your spouse doing drugs or driving drunk, medical records from their times spent in the hospital as a result of their abuse, or records from other government agencies, like Child Protective Services.

For example, if their drug use/alcohol abuse has resulted in neglect, calling Child Protective Services can start the paper trail you need to show the judge that your former spouse is endangering your children.

It’s possible you have avoided involving law enforcement in the past and allowed your former spouse to continue their bad behavior, but if your spouse has drugs in the house or is driving around drunk, you may need to involve the police to protect yourself and your children.

If your former spouse is then arrested, it’s no longer your word against theirs–you now have concrete evidence from a third party. Even if they aren’t arrested, the police will still file a report, which can then be used as evidence. Your attorney will be able to best consult you on what kind of evidence you need.

In most cases, the court will order an investigation into any claims you make, which may involve requiring your spouse to take a drug test. However, if the court finds that there’s sufficient evidence, they’ll likely make a change to the custody agreement. The court will often issue a temporary order changing custody if they believe your children are in danger.

What Can and Will the Courts Do?

The courts can do everything from barring your former spouse from seeing your children at all to nothing–it all depends on many factors, including what the evidence shows, your former spouse’s criminal record and history, how the judge assigned to your case interprets the law, and more.

However, what often happens is that the parent suspected of substance abuse issues will be asked to take a drug test. If they fail that test or any other tests the court orders, they’ll likely be given some form of supervised possession.

Remember, the courts truly do want to keep parents in their children’s lives. It’s not common that a court will take away parental rights entirely–this requires that a very high legal standard be met. The court does have that power, but it’s not likely to exercise that power unless the situation is severe.

In most cases, if your ex spouse fails a drug test or is otherwise proven to have a drug and/or alcohol problem, the court will likely give your former spouse several chances to redeem themselves. If they fail to meet the requirements, they may be stuck with the level of supervision the court has put in place until they file an appeal.

However, it’s unlikely that your former spouse’s parental rights will be taken away–that would require something severe to happen, like the commission of a serious crime, ending up in prison for two or more years, or endangering your children during a supervised visit, among other things.

Thankfully, there are still some actions you can take to protect your children from a spouse who shows no interest in changing.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Children

The main thing you can do is to document every instance of bad behavior as much as possible. You may need to involve CPS if your child tells you something concerning. You may need to call the police more than once. But the more you document what’s happening, the better the chances of keeping your children safe.

Perhaps just as importantly, you need to get an attorney who is well-versed in family law and will work tirelessly to walk you through this convoluted legal process and to use every resource available to them to protect your children and hold your former spouse accountable.

If your former spouse has an alcohol or drug problem and you’re not sure what to do, we’re here for you.

Contact us today to set up your initial consultation or call us directly at (214) 646-3253.