Child custody cases are inherently complex. Not only do they involve the rights and duties of the parents, but they must also consider the interests of any children involved. However, one factor that can complicate matters further is the existence of substance abuse by one or both parents.
Regardless of the type, whether alcohol abuse, drug addiction, or misuse of prescription medications, substance abuse can be a significant concern when it comes to a parent’s ability to provide a safe and stable environment for their child. If you are pursuing custody of a child in Texas and have questions about the impact of substance abuse on child custody determinations, The Larson Law Office is here to help. Use our guide below to learn more about how our firm can help you.
An Overview of Texas Child Custody
Before diving into detail on the impacts of substance abuse on child custody determinations, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of how child custody in Texas works. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you move forward.
Custody (Conservatorship), Generally
A child custody determination refers to a court order that provides for legal custody, physical custody, or visitation for a child. Each of these categories of custody is defined as:
- Legal custody—the managing conservatorship of a child, or the legal right to make decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and general welfare;
- Physical custody—the physical care and supervision of a child; and
- Visitation—the possession of or access to a child.
Broadly, “conservatorship” is the legal term used to refer to custody in Texas, and an individual who has court-ordered custody of a child is referred to as a “conservator.”
Presumption of Appointment of Both Parents as Joint Managing Conservators
When it comes to decision-making authority over a child (managing conservatorship), the court has two primary options:
- Name only one parent sole managing conservator, meaning that they have sole decision-making authority; or
- Name both parents as joint managing conservators, where they will share decision-making authority concerning the child.
Texas Family Code section 153.131 specifies that it is a rebuttable presumption that both parents should be appointed joint managing conservators of a child. This means that unless evidence indicates that doing so would be improper, both parents will often be granted joint decision-making authority for their child.
The Best Interest of the Child
It’s important to note, however, that the above presumption can be rebutted (overturned) if a court determines that appointing both parents as joint managing conservators would not be in the child’s best interest. This is commonly called the “best interest of the child” standard.
IIn short, this means the child’s best interest will always be the court’s primary concern and consideration when deciding on conservatorship and possession of a child. Examples of factors that Texas courts will commonly take into consideration in determining what is in a child’s best interest include the following:
- Child’s desires,
- Present and future physical and emotional needs of the child,
- Existence of any emotional or physical danger to the child,
- Parental abilities of the individual(s) seeking custody,
- Existence of any programming available to the individual(s) seeking custody that would help them promote the child’s best interests,
- Stability of the home where the child would reside, and
- Acts or omissions of either parent that may indicate that the parent-child relationship is not proper or appropriate.
This is not an exhaustive list; courts may consider other factors pertinent to the custody case.
Substance or Drug Abuse and Child Custody Impacts
In addition to the preceding factors, another that frequently arises that can have a significant impact on the child is the existence of any substance abuse by either parent. Keep reading to learn more about the day-to-day and legal implications of substance abuse in the context of child custody determinations.
Everyday Implications of Substance Abuse
According to a brief published by the Office of Human Services Policy, an estimated 21 million children in the United States each year live with at least one parent who misuses substances.
There’s no question that substance abuse can have many adverse impacts on an individual’s ability to parent and care for their child adequately. For example, substance abuse can lead to:
- Misuse of time, money, and resources that could otherwise go toward a parent’s child;
- Financial instability;
- Neglect of a child’s basic needs;
- Erratic behavior and heightened emotions;
- Inconsistent and unpredictable behavior;
- Impaired judgment and decision-making abilities;
- Increased risk of accidents or harm to both parent and child;
- Emotional and psychological impacts on the child; and
- Interference with parent-child bonding.
If you have concerns regarding substance abuse by your child’s other parent, or you are suffering from substance abuse, do not hesitate to contact our team to discuss your rights and options moving forward.
How Substance Abuse Can Affect Custody Determinations
If there is evidence of one parent’s substance abuse, this could lead a court to:
- Grant sole managing and/or possessory conservatorship to the other parent;
- Order court-mandated rehabilitation as a condition for maintaining or regaining custody; or
- Limit visitation rights with the child.
It’s important to remember that each case is different, and the outcome will ultimately depend on the facts and circumstances surrounding your matter. Texas courts will consider all relevant factors regarding a parent’s substance abuse in an effort to make a determination that is in the child’s best interest.
Speak with an Experienced Family Law and Custody Attorney Today
Divorce and custody matters can be complicated and emotionally overwhelming. And while there may not be much you can do to simplify the process, having the right team in your corner can alleviate much of the stress off your shoulders as you fight for your rights and those of your children.
At The Larson Law Office, we primarily handle family law and divorce matters, so you can feel confident knowing that we have the legal background and experience to handle your custody matter effectively. However, what sets us apart from other firms in the area is our dedication to providing personalized service and attention to every one of our clients. When you hire our team, we will not pass you along to a receptionist or legal assistant—instead, you will always connect directly with one of our founding attorneys, Erik or Diana Larson.
When you’re ready to start, contact us to discuss your case and see how we can help you move forward.