Substance Abuse Complicates Child Custody Matters

Frequently, when two parents head to court over issues related to their children, it often boils down to someone wanting more visitation, or a complete change in custody. Allegations of all sorts can begin to fly when the gloves come off, including drug and alcohol abuse. This can be a game changer when it comes to custody and visitation decisions.

Parental fear of losing child custody is a catalyst for one of the most contentious battles attorneys see in the family court arena. The court’s sole concern is what is in the best interest of your children, and that doesn’t necessarily include a parent who may be putting them at risk while imbibing or getting high.

Why drug and alcohol testing is performed

Allegations of drug and alcohol use can surface for valid, or even strategic reasons. Some parents may witness a change in demeanor in the other parent, or their children may inadvertently mention concerning behavior such as sleeping more, losing his or her temper more easily, or behaving erratically in general.

A parent will be able to take evidence of drug and alcohol abuse back to the Family Court to request a parent’s visitation be suspended or supervised, or to fight for a complete change in custody. If you have primary custody of your children and receive child support, and you are facing allegation of substance abuse, you also face losing that financial support if you lose your children. Furthermore, you may find yourself being required to pay child support to the parent who gains primary custody.

The risk you take when abusing drugs or alcohol

Something most parents fear when fighting over their children is the Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) becoming involved in their private family matters. DHS can require drug testing of the parties and children when there are allegations of substance abuse reported to their agency. If DHS determines a case to be founded, it can be used in private custody litigation or DHS can has authority to remove the children from the custody of the parties when the children are endangered.

For your children to be returned to your custody or to even obtain visitation rights may require a lengthy process of complying with periodic drug testing and entering drug and alcohol treatment programs, in addition to other requirements.

What is the procedure for being tested?

There are various types of drug tests that may be performed depending upon the allegations being made. Typically, the parent will need to make arrangements with a local testing lab to have the requested testing performed, which is usually done within a day or two or contacting the lab. Depending upon the test performed, results may be back within a couple of days to a week.

There are advantages that certain tests provide that may prompt one to be designated over another, such as the type of drug alleged. Alcohol and certain drugs can remain detectable for longer periods depending upon the method used:

  • Blood. This method can detect the presence of alcohol for up to 80 hours or drugs for up to a few hours. Blood tests are not typically used for proving past use of drugs due to their quick metabolism in the bloodstream.
  • Urine. This test can detect the presence of alcohol for up to 80 hours. Drug use can be detected for anywhere from 1 day to 2 months depending upon frequency of usage.
  • Saliva. This method can detect the presence of alcohol for up to 80 hours. Drug use can be determined for up to 48 hours after last use. Saliva tests are not the typical testing method for drug use given the short period of detection.
  • Hair follicle. This method can detect the presence of alcohol for up to 30 days or drug use for 3 months or longer depending upon the length of the hair strand sample.
  • Nail clippings. This method can detect the presence of alcohol or drugs for as long as 3 to 6 months after use.

Taking drugs or drinking is sometimes a coping mechanism for parents who are under severe stress. This can be brought on by antagonistic divorce proceedings or just dealing with a difficult former spouse long after your divorce is final.

If you believe your children are at risk while in the care of their other parent, the caring child custody attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. are here to help you take action to protect them. We’ll guide you through your legal options for changing the To speak with one of our knowledgeable Bethesda family law attorneys call 443-917-3347, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact form. We maintain additional offices in Fulton, Rockville and Columbia.