• calendar10th Dec 23 11:00 pm
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How Courts View Substance Abuse In Parental Rights And Visitation Disputes

Sometimes, unmarried or divorced parents are forced to go to family court to settle disputes related to their parental rights and resolve conflicts related to shared custody vs. visitation. If one parent has been accused of substance abuse, the court may consider allegations when making an official decision. Whether you have been accused of substance abuse or you believe your child’s other parent has a substance abuse problem, it is important to understand how drug and alcohol abuse can influence family court decisions. The dedicated family law attorneys at the Colorado Divorce Law Group represent parents in a wide range of family law matters, including parental rights and visitation disputes. Call (720) 593-6442 today to discuss your legal options.


How Do Judges Make Child Custody Decisions in Colorado?


In Colorado child custody and visitation disputes, state law mandates that the court make decisions based on the “best interests of the child.” Judges consider a litany of factors when determining which arrangement will meet the best interests of the child. In some states, local laws mention substance abuse as one of the factors for judges to consider when making these decisions. Although Colorado state law makes no specific mention of substance abuse, judges are permitted to consider all circumstances related to the child’s best interests, which could include substance abuse if the parent’s use of alcohol or drugs poses a danger to the physical or emotional well-being of the child.


Colorado courts consider the following factors when making decisions regarding parental rights and visitation:


  • The wishes of both parents
  • The child’s preference
  • How the child interacts with parents, siblings, and others who could affect the child’s best interests
  • How well the child has adjusted to their current home, school, and community
  • The mental and physical health of the parents (but parenting time decisions cannot be made solely based on a disability)
  • How willing each parent is to foster the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • How involved the parent was with the child in the past and how this speaks to their support, value system, and time commitment
  • How far away the parents live from each other and how this could impact parenting time
  • The ability of each parent to prioritize the child’s needs before their own
  • Any information related to domestic violence, if applicable


How Does Alcoholism Affect Custody?


Alcohol consumption can affect custody if the court determines that the parent’s use of alcohol is problematic to the point that it endangers the child’s physical or mental health. To make a parenting time or visitation decision based on alcoholism, the court needs convincing evidence that the parent regularly drinks alcohol to excess or drives under the influence.


The court could potentially limit parenting time or decision-making authority based on alcohol use. However, the primary objective is typically to implement safeguards to protect the child when visiting a parent with alcoholism. Some common visitation conditions set by family law courts in Colorado include:


  • Supervised visitations
  • Constraints on interactions between the parents
  • Stipulation for child handover to occur in a secure environment
  • Limitations on overnight stays
  • Mandates that the parent remains free from alcohol or drug use during parenting periods and for the preceding 24 hours
  • Mandatory rehabilitation or counseling
  • Random alcohol and drug testing


How Can I Request Custody and Parenting Time Changes Due to Substance Abuse?


Colorado Revised Statutes 14-10-129 states that a parent may file a motion to change a custody arrangement or restrict parenting time if there is evidence that the current arrangement poses an imminent physical or emotional danger to the child. To request a modification, one of the parents must file a motion with the court that handled the initial arrangement. A notice of the motion must be served to the other parent. The court then reviews the case to determine if it is valid.


If the court takes the case, authorities will consider a range of factors when deciding whether to modify the parenting time or custody arrangement. The court makes a final decision based on what it deems to be “most beneficial for the child.” You can learn more about modifying parental rights and visitation guidelines for substance abuse by contacting the Colorado Divorce Law Group.


Can I File a Motion for Drug Testing?


One parent may present a motion to the court to solicit drug screenings of the other parent if the following conditions apply:


  • A dispute regarding the parent’s mental or physical state
  • Sufficient rationale for the request
  • Proper notification to the other parent involved in the action


The motion may be seen as more credible if the parent filing it includes an affidavit stating the suspected substance and how the filing parent is aware of the substance abuse, along with examples of how the substance use is affecting the children. The parent suspected of substance abuse is allotted 21 days to respond. If the court orders testing, it must be completed 28 days before the final orders hearing. This motion could dictate the regularity and duration of tests, accessibility to the testing findings, stipulations for signed releases to review results, and protective orders. Non-compliance with court-ordered drug evaluations allows the court to assume substance abuse by the non-complying party.


Can Marijuana Use Affect Child Custody?


Recreational marijuana use is legal in Colorado, but it can still potentially have an impact on parental rights and visitation disputes. As in all other types of disputes, the key question is whether the parent’s marijuana use impairs their ability to safely care for their child. In a Colorado Court of Appeals case called Marriage of Parr, the court ruled that a father’s medical marijuana use was not grounds to restrict his parenting time unless it could be proven that using marijuana threatened the physical or emotional well-being and safety of his child.


If there is no proof that the child is endangered by their parent’s marijuana use, then it will not impact parental rights, visitation, or custody in any way. However, if child endangerment related to marijuana can be proven – such as evidence that the parent regularly drives while under the influence of marijuana – then the court could potentially modify child custody agreements.


Discuss Your Concerns With Our Colorado Family Law Attorneys Today


If you believe that your child’s other parent has a substance abuse problem that is endangering your child, or if you have been accused of substance abuse as a parent, you may be wondering how these allegations could impact custody, visitation, and parental rights. The family law attorneys with the Colorado Divorce Law group represent parents in childcare disputes and other family law matters. Call (720) 593-6442 today to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.