Substance abuse issues are destroying families in North Dakota and across the country. With opioid and heroin epidemics raging in all corners of the nation, not to mention the prevalence of alcohol abuse, parents are finding themselves dealing with spouses who can no longer fulfill their responsibilities to the family. This leads to painful divorce and custody issues.
Of course, each circumstance is unique, and each family has its special concerns. If your ex- or soon-to-be ex-spouse is struggling with addiction, you may be torn over the best way to manage what may be a potentially volatile situation. So, how do the courts deal with a parent who has a substance abuse problem?
Proving your case
The number one priority of family courts is the best interests of the child. Generally, a court begins with the assumption that both parents are loving and desiring the best for their kids. Additionally, research shows that children benefit most when they have as much access to both parents as possible. However, you may feel that spending time with your alcoholic or drug addicted former spouse is not the healthiest place for your children.
Here are some factors that a judge will consider in circumstances where substance abuse may be present:
- The question of your co-parent’s fitness arises during a custody hearing.
- North Dakota Child Protection Services becomes involved with your family.
- The judge hears evidence of your spouse’s behavior while impaired, for example, arrest records or DUI charges.
- You demonstrate that your children are in danger when they are with your ex-spouse.
- You have filed a restraining order against your former spouse.
Testimony demonstrating your spouse is unfit or unreliable to care for the children may result in a ruling of restricted, perhaps supervised, visitation rights for your ex-spouse. This will typically be in a controlled environment and may require that your ex-spouse demonstrate sobriety before having access to the children. The court may require your ex to undergo counseling or rehabilitation to maintain his or her visitation rights, and the ruling may offer increased privileges as your ex’s health improves.
Perhaps you have been divorced a while now, and it is only recently that your ex-spouse’s drinking or drug use has become a concern. If your spouse’s substance abuse problems were not an issue when the court settled your original custody agreement, you may have a more difficult task before you. You may have to file for a modification of your custody agreement. For assistance with these custody matters, it is always beneficial to have the help of an experienced attorney.