Deciding who has responsibility for a child after a divorce or family break-up is not always easy. A wide variety of factors are taken into account by the Family court when reaching a decision in cases involving arrangements for children. The term “custody battle” is often used, but ‘custody’ has long been removed from the legal terminology used in this area.
Unfortunately situations regarding the arrangements for children often become extremely heated and difficult with both parents using whatever ammunition they can lay their hands on. It is a very emotional area of family law and it pays to:
- know what to expect;
- seek legal advice; and
- prepare properly.
Will drug use and alcohol consumption sabotage my case?
Not necessarily, although drug and alcohol abuse is taken very seriously by the court in child arrangements cases. A history of drug or alcohol abuse will make it more difficult to gain residence of a child, but not impossible. The Family Court’s overarching concern is always for the child’s or children’s safety and protecting them from physical and psychological harm. The onus will be on a parent to prove that they are capable of taking good and proper care of their child, but they will need to jump certain hurdles to show they are the better option of the two parents, if they have a history that involves drug use or excessive alcohol consumption, particularly if the other parent does not.
Even where there are significant signs of ongoing issues with drugs or alcohol, supervised visits with a child may well still be possible so that the child-parent relationship is maintained. A specialised lawyer can help put together the best case to achieve the outcome you want.
What will the Court take into consideration?
A Family Court judge with experience will know all the tricks that parties play in child arrangements cases. Alleging a parent has a drug or alcohol problem is not the same as proving it. The judge will base his or her decision on the evidence before the Court and what would be in the best interests of the child. Evidence will be key in any such dispute.
Where the issue of drugs or alcohol abuse is raised, the judge will enquire about the current situation and home environment. He or she will want to know if there is an ongoing problem, or if the issue was in the past or even a one-time mistake. He or she may order drugs or other tests be carried out either as a one-off or regularly and ask for a demonstration of sobriety and what steps have been taken to ensure no relapse.
Other points worth knowing
The court will take into consideration the type and amount of the substance that is being discussed. For example, smoking marijuana at a party where children are not present will not influence the decision regarding child arrangements to the same extent as a mother with a heroin addiction. Equally, a father who is regularly not at home and instead is drinking in the pub until late at night would not be viewed favourably by a court in deciding a disputed case.
Being honest with the court is not only a legal requirement but can work to your advantage. Lying about an issue in the past can damage your case and make the court question your integrity and consider you to be an unreliable witness and discount other aspects of your case.
The Family Court judge has discretion to decide what arrangements for the ‘resident’ parent and for the contact with the ‘non-resident’ parent will be for the children and will always presume that it is in the child’s best interest to have an ongoing relationship with both parents. In rare occurrences where both parents are unable to provide a stable home environment because of drug or alcohol issues, the court may order a child or children to be taken into care or to live with another family member.
Resolving the arrangements for children following separation depends on many factors. However much a parent loves a child the court will make its decision taking into account all of the evidence before it. Drugs or alcohol use can be an influential issue.
If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (01904) 217225 or (020) 36332301 or (0161) 3273677 or email [email protected].