When parents fight over custody of minor children, one thing they often accuse the other of doing is using drugs or abusing alcohol. But what role does drug or alcohol abuse actually play in a custody case? The answer is more complex than you may think.

Simple Usage

The first thing to remember is that it is not the fact that a parent uses drugs or abuses alcohol that matters in a custody case. It is whether that use or abuse affects or impacts the minor children. There are times when these things may have no effect at all.

Hypothetically, a parent who secretly does marijuana in the car late at night on occasion, may have no impact on a custody case, given that it does not affect the kids, the kids are not exposed to it, and the kids are not harmed.

On the other hand, a parent who routinely has three friends over and they do marijuana on the kitchen table in plain and full view of the kids, would have drug use that has way more impact in a custody case.

Alcohol Use and Abuse

The same goes for alcohol; alcohol is of course legal, so just showing that a parent drinks alcohol is largely irrelevant in a custody case. But if the parent is drunk at home every night, or if the alcohol prevents the parent from safely and responsibly caring for the kids when the kids are in the parent’s care, or if the parent gets behind the wheel drunk with kids in the car, then the alcohol usage would be an issue that the court cares about.

Serious Problems

The court would likely take even more interest in drug or alcohol use, if a parent was involved with drugs in a more significant way- for example, if a parent were dealing or selling drugs, or if the parent was routinely using very hardcore drugs, like cocaine or heroin. Just engaging in these activities, by themselves, could be enough to limit or take away or seriously limit custody from a parent.

Getting Tested

A parent who suspects the other parent of abusing drugs or alcohol, can ask the court to test the other parent for the presence of drugs. The type of test, such as hair, blood or urine samples, often depends on the drug that the parent is supposedly using or abusing. Experts will evaluate the results, to confirm any positive or negative tests.


When there is drug or alcohol usage by a parent that does affect the kids or their well-being, the court will usually resort to some kind of monitored, supervised visitation. Once the parent demonstrates that he or she has recovered from the prior behavior, or has met a certain milestone (for example, completing a rehabilitation program), the court will often re-evaluate custody, to allow that parent unsupervised visitation.

Question about your child custody case? Contact our New Jersey family law and child custody attorneys at The Law Office of Agnes Rybar LLC today.




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