Child custody and substance abuse — like oil and water?

When a legal issue arises in your family, the best way you can protect yourself and the ones you love is by consulting a family law attorney who understands how to help you.

In the United States today, there are countless minor children in the custody of parents who are dangerously addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. The Washington Times reported there were 47,600 Americans who succumbed to opioid overdoses in a single year. Addiction to opioid drugs is now being referred to by the current Administration as a "national health emergency."

Those statistics are stark, but for the families who live every day with the uncertainty spawned by a loved one's addiction, the realities are even harsher. Still, many — if not most — alcoholics and addicts remain resistant to rehab and recovery programs.

When custody and addiction collide

Parental substance abuse is one of the top reasons kids are removed from their parents' custody. The children are presumed to be at risk when they are supervised by someone who is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Impaired parents can't tend to their children's physical, intellectual and emotional needs, and the kids may subsequently be removed from the home.

Best-case scenario

When a parent is impaired, the best solution is often to transfer custody to the child's other parent until the impaired parent is able to get (and remain) sober. When both parents are addicted or their other parent is not present in the children's lives, the next best solution may be to have extended family members assume custody of the minor children when this is possible.

Worst-case scenario

When there is no suitable guardian for the children of addicted parents, the kids unfortunately enter "the system." This typically means a succession of foster homes, some more suitable than others, or placement in a youth facility. Children forced into the system often receive sub-par educational instruction and minimal medical care, with no access to many of the activities and accoutrements of a typical childhood.

The addict and the courts

In all their rulings, the Colorado courts must keep the best interests of the children foremost when making decisions, including removing the kids from the home and ordering supervised visitations.

The good news is that the courts generally find that the best interests of the children include contact with both parents. However, the courts may find that exposure to an addicted or alcoholic parent who is not actively pursuing sobriety is not in the best interests of a child.

Fighting back after addiction

If you are an addicted parent, you can still pursue custody of your children. However, your chances of retaining or regaining custody will be much better if the court can establish that you are making an effort to get clean.

Be honest with your family law attorney about you situation. They may be able to point you in the direction of a recovery program that will bolster your custody chances with the courts.

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