Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: When Your Co-Parent Abuses Drugs or Alcohol (page 2)
Drug and alcohol abuse is a factor that impairs a parent's ability to manage children effectively. In the worst situations, drug and alcohol abuse can threaten the safety and lives of your children.
Handling Allegations of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Handling allegations of drug and alcohol abuse can be very difficult within the context of high-conflict co-parenting relationships. One parent complains that the other is abusing drugs or alcohol, and the other parent complains that the allegation is baseless and is being used as an excuse to gain custody or restrict visitation.
Other factors can further complicate the issue of drug or alcohol abuse.
- The person making the allegation might have enabled the drug or alcohol abuse in the past, or assisted in hiding it from other family members.
- The person being accused might be abusing a substance, but no evidence (such as a treatment record or convictions) exists to prove the abuse in court.
The diagnosis of drug or alcohol abuse is evaluated in clinical settings using information supplied by family members. In a legal setting, this diagnosis is thought to be mitigated by the fact that allegations are sometimes exaggerations of real events, or outright lies, so evaluators often do not know whom to believe.
Most courts I have worked in are neither sympathetic to nor skeptical of people making allegations of drug abuse. Many judges handle an allegation of substance abuse by referring the alleged abuser for drug or alcohol testing, just to be conservative.
Drug and Alcohol Testing
The process of testing for drugs and alcohol is not perfect. Alcohol testing is effective only for relatively short "look-back" periods. Most alcohol tests cannot accurately detect whether someone has consumed alcohol to excess unless the test happens to occur on a day that the subject has consumed to excess.
Drug tests usually test either urine or hair. Urine tests are not foolproof and can be "beaten" in many different ways. As a rule of thumb, pot, cocaine, amphetamines, painkillers, and barbiturates can be detected for one to three days after use. If someone is a heavy, daily user of pot, use can be detected (though not always reliably) for up to thirty days. Many drug screening facilities now have sophisticated technology that helps identify when someone tries to hide the presence of drugs in their bodies.
Urine tests can be unreliable in detecting many types of abuse in many situations. Drug tests that test hair can look back for three, six, twelve, or even more months, depending on the length of the hair. Many judges will order people to have hair tests and simultaneously order that the person tested not cut, process, or color the hair. Some judges require that a Polaroid picture be taken of the person sent for drug testing so that there is a record of the length of the person's hair from court date to court date.
If you are encouraging your attorney to have the judge order a drug test, have a list of acceptable facilities ready to give the judge. Do not accept hair testing by Internet companies that say they offer the testing when someone mails a sample of hair to them. There is no way of knowing whose hair is being sent for testing. Make sure the facility you use for drug testing does a photo ID check of the person you are sending for testing. Sometimes people will send impostors to give a sample if the ID procedure is sloppy.
Hair tests can be expensive. I have seen the prices for hair testing range from $250 to $2,000. Before sending anyone to a facility, check to see whether the director of the facility has given expert testimony regarding the results of the tests and their accuracy. You would not want to spend a substantial amount of money only to have the tests not accepted as evidence or successfully refuted by the opposing attorney.
Giving Compelling Testimony
If you cannot prove drug or alcohol abuse by a person's history or by drug testing results, you will have to prove it on credibility: your word against the word of the accused, as evaluated by a judge. The most compelling testimony is the most specific. That means you must carefully and meticulously document times, dates, and places where you suspect the co-parent was high or drunk. It's helpful to offer witnesses to back up your story if you can.
Be prepared for some very difficult questions about your own behavior while this investigation is going on. For instance, if you ever left your children alone with the person you now say is abusing drugs and alcohol, you will have to face the possibility that you are credible with respect to your allegations of abuse but guilty of neglecting your children's safety.
When You Are Falsely Accused
Suppose you are being accused of drug or alcohol abuse and you believe that the allegation is false and malicious. The first thing to bring to everyone's attention is information related to the following:
- Traffic-related incidents involving drugs or alcohol
- Results of drug tests required by employers
- History of alcoholor drug-related problems at work
- History of drug or alcohol treatment or hospitalization
- Family history of drug or alcohol abuse
- Criminal history related to drugs or alcohol
If there is no evidence against you in any of the areas listed, volunteer to take drug or alcohol tests immediately and offer to provide the results directly to the co-parent's attorney through your attorney. If you want to communicate strongly to the court that you do not have an alcohol problem, offer to consent to refrain from the use of any alcohol during your contact with the children.
If none of this is satisfactory to the co-parent, the co-parent's attorney, or the court, the allegation will have to be examined by a judge at a trial, hearing, or other legal proceeding in which you will have to give testimony about your drug or alcohol history. If that is the case, a judge will evaluate your honesty and the co-parent's honesty and make a decision based on those perceptions.
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