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How alcohol or drug abuse affects child custody

A divorced Maryland parent who has a child custody agreement in place and finds out that the other parent is abusing alcohol or drugs may be concerned about the child's safety. It might be necessary to take out a restraining order against the other parent or to deny that parent visitation. However, a parent may also need to take formal steps to get the custody and visitation agreement changed.

In a custody hearing, a judge's focus is on the child's best interests. The judge will consider whether there is a history of substance abuse as well as how any alleged substance abuse affects the child. A parent who is concerned about the other parent's use of alcohol or drugs should provide evidence of the abuse along with documentation showing that it is detrimental to the child's safety or well-being.

In some cases, a judge might allow a parent to continue having visitation rights only if they are supervised. A family member or a social worker might need to be present, and there might be a condition the parent will have to fulfill in order to get non-supervised visitation, such as completing a rehab program.

Child custody can often become a contentious divorce issue. A parent may struggle to remember that the best interests of the child may involve spending time with the other parent even if the estranged couple have very different value systems and lifestyles. A parent should attempt to distinguish between issues that are merely personal preference versus those that affect a child's well-being. For example, if a child consistently misses school because of the other parent's alcoholism, this could be evidence that supports an allegation that the child is harmed by that parent's substance abuse.

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