A New Jersey parent who is concerned about the other parent’s substance abuse and who is going through a divorce should bring up the substance abuse at the custody hearing. The parent should also bring any documentation that can support the allegations. It is important to demonstrate that the substance abuse is harmful to the child in some way as well. A judge will be examining the fitness of both parents and making a decision that is in the child’s best interests.
If a parent finds out that the other parent is abusing drugs or alcohol after a custody agreement is in place, what the parent does next will depend upon how much danger the child may be in. For example, it might be necessary to take out a restraining order against the other parent. If the parent feels the child is unsafe, the parent might also deny visitation.
The parent may need to return to court to get a change in the custody agreement. A judge may limit the parent with a substance abuse issue to supervised visits only. This could be changed again if the parent completes a rehabilitation program or takes other steps ordered by the judge.
A judge usually makes a decision under the assumption that in most cases, children should have the opportunity to build a relationship with both parents. If there is domestic abuse, neglect or other issues that endanger the child, however, the other parent might want to talk to an attorney about how to best handle the situation. In most other cases, both parents will have some time with their child, and they may share legal custody even if one parent has primary physical custody. Sharing legal custody means both parents have decision-making responsibilities about major issues such as health care and education.