My Spouse Is an Alcoholic/Drug User; How Can I Keep my Kids Safe?

One of the most tragic situations we deal with as Utah divorce attorneys is a parent who’s an addict.

Addictions come in many forms. Alcoholism and drug abuse are among the worst addictions. Porn addiction is also debilitating and has broken up more marriages than I care count. Video game addiction is also a very real thing, and it breaks families apart. Smoking doesn’t have the same type of behavioral components as the others; it simply kills you slowly.

Whatever the form, addiction poses serious issues in divorce that need to be addressed.

Alcoholism and Drug Abuse

Perhaps the most common addictions we deal with are alcoholism and drug abuse (prescription or illicit, doesn’t really matter).

The first thing we have to address is whether the addicted person poses a risk to the kids. Sometimes, they don’t.

For example, if they smoke weed once a week, but they’re not around the kids when they smoke or when they’re high, then there’s not a lot of risk there.

This isn’t reality, though. The vast majority of the time, addicts pose risks to their children. They are unable to control themselves, so they become violent with their kids (alcoholics are famous for this), or they drive while they’re still high on Oxycodone. Alcoholics and drug abusers steal money, they verbally abuse their family, they generally act off the wall. They are usually a risk to their kids.

If this is the case, how do you keep your kids safe?

When dealing with addicts, we need to set up safeguards to keep kids safe. These safeguards often include:

  1. Specialized addiction treatment
  1. Random drug and alcohol testing (usually urinalysis tests)
  1. Supervised visitation with the kids
  1. Removal of parent-time if found high

#1 and #2 are the most common. Addiction treatment is almost a given because addicts tend to stay addicts until they go through treatment. And, if addiction is so serious that treatment is necessary, there almost has to be a monitoring system in place to ensure the person is staying on the straight and narrow. Random urinalysis tests are usually the best way to accomplish that.

Here’s an example of the language we may use in a Utah divorce decree to address drug addiction:

X should not use illegal drugs, or misuse prescription medication or alcohol while Minor Children are in his/her care. If a Party has a reasonable belief that the other Party is drunk or using drugs or misusing prescription medication, that Party can withhold parent-time. X should not allow third parties to use drugs or alcohol in the presence of Minor Children.

“Upon reasonable suspicion of drug use, Y may request X take a U.A. drug test. X will complete the test within twenty-four hours of request and will pay the upfront cost. If the test comes back negative, Y should reimburse X for the entire amount of the test. If any test comes back positive, or if X does not take the test within twenty-four hours of request for any reason,X‘s parent-time should be supervised by a mutually agreed upon third party until further order of the Court.”

We have a number of other clauses that deal with any number of other addictions. Because each addiction is unique, they require unique language to address them correctly.

What You Don’t Do: Nothing

There’s tendency to want to play nice in divorce when one person has an addiction. Playing nice usually means letting the addiction slide and doing nothing.

I’m a firm believer is playing nice during divorce. When it comes to addiction and the safety of children, however, you can’t play nice and do nothing.

You have to face the problem of addiction and make sure your soon-to-be ex gets the help he/she needs. That’s the only way you can ensure your children’s safety.

Published On: May 23rd, 2017Categories: Protective OrdersComments Off on My Spouse Is an Alcoholic/Drug User; How Can I Keep my Kids Safe?
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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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