When One of the Parents May Be Impaired

Good question this weekend on Alabama Divorce Questions about the options a parent has when she’s concerned that the other parent may be intoxicated or high when he’s with the children. In general, Rule Number One is just common sense. Do what you need to do to protect your children. Then explain it to the judge (if necessary) later.

So, for example, if a parent shows up to drive home with the children and is obviously intoxicated or otherwise impaired, you’re quite within your rights to withhold visitation long enough to protect the safety of your children, even if there’s nothing in the decree explicitly giving you that right. This may take the form of insisting that the other parent come back the next morning when he or she is sober, or it may take the form of driving everybody yourself to a safe place. The key is, you do what you need to do to protect your children and deal with the judge later. If the other parent gets belligerent about it, call the police.

Now, once you’ve discovered that there might be a continuing problem with impairment, you have several options. If both parents are cooperative (and this is often the case after everybody has sobered up), consider adding one or more provisions to your decree that will give either parent the right to protect the children if impairment is an issue. If the issue is alcohol, you could add a provision requiring each parent to keep a breathalyzer on hand. You could set a threshhold level of intoxication that would trigger a change in the provisions about who has what rights to be with the children when and whether supervision will be needed.

If the issue is illegal drugs or legal drugs taken illegally, the issue is a tad more difficult to manage, because the tests for impairment are not quick and easy the way they are for alcohol. Here’s one possible solution, a quick screen drug test kit (pee-in-the-cup urine test) for amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines (valium), cannabinoids (marijuana), cocaine, methadone, pcp, and methamphetamines. A package of 5 kits costs $125.

If impairment is a continuing issue, you can always opt for supervised visitation. The problem with this, of course, as most judges understand, is that for too many parents, supervised visitation often becomes no supervision at all. Parents will have to weigh their concern for the children’s safety against the clear risk that requiring supervision for visitation will result in less time that the other parent spends with the children.

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