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Can a Mother or Father Lose Custody for Drug Abuse?

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling (360) 857-0007 now.

There are a lot of victims of addiction. One of them is the family relationship. The effects of substance use disorders are particularly hard to handle if children are involved. However, when a parent with a substance use disorder tries to get help by entering drug rehab, that, too, can be difficult for kids because it typically means that the parent will be absent from the child’s life for a period of time.

How does having an addiction affect child custody? Does a stint in rehab mean that a parent will lose custody of their child? What should parents consider when entering rehab? Most importantly, why is getting addiction treatment beneficial for the whole family? Learn answers to your top questions, including “Can a mother lose custody for drug use?”

About Child Custody 

The term child custody is used to refer to a person responsible for the care and safety of a child. Custody is often a legal term, and it comes with certain rights and responsibilities, such as the right to make medical decisions for a child and the responsibility to meet a child’s basic needs. There are various types of child custody, but if you have specific questions about custody, it is important to consult with an attorney, as state laws and individual situations will vary.

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

Legal custody refers to being legally responsible for a child in the eyes of a court. In situations in which two parents are married and no other arrangements have been made, both parents are said to have legal custody. This means they are responsible for the child’s care and have the right to determine where that child goes to school, what religion they practice and the type of medical care they receive.

On the other hand, physical custody refers to the person caring for and supervising a child. Consider, for instance, if a parent has an addiction and temporarily places their child with a relative without going to court to change legal custody. In this instance, the parent may retain legal custody while the relative has physical custody.

Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody

In some instances, two parents have joint custody. In marriages, both parents retain custody rights, so married partners would be said to share joint custody of their children. On the other hand, when parents divorce, there is a possibility of coming to a joint custody arrangement, in which both parents retain rights and the ability to make decisions for the children. Divorce or separation may also result in sole custody, in which one parent has the responsibility to care for the children and the right to make decisions on their behalf.

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Can a Parent Lose Custody for Drug or Alcohol Use?

When a court makes a decision regarding a child’s custody, its job is to determine what is in the best interests of the child. If a parent is abusing substances and is unable to provide proper care and supervision, a court would be likely to determine that it is not in the child’s best interests to remain with that parent. For example, if two parents are going through divorce proceedings and one has an addiction, the parent with the addiction may lose custody.

It is also possible for a parent to lose child custody if the child welfare system becomes involved with a family. Parental substance abuse can contribute to child abuse and neglect and is common among families involved with the child welfare system. If parental substance abuse leads to serious danger or harm to children, the child welfare system may intervene and take custody of the children.

Once the state intervenes, children may be placed in foster care or with an appropriate relative. In many cases, the goal is for parents to be reunified with their children after completing rehab, but parents may permanently lose custody if they do not take steps to recover from addiction.

How Does Addiction Affect Children?

When one or both parents live with an addiction, children are negatively affected. Parents may become less warm and responsive to their children when suffering from an addiction, which can interfere with bonding and even lead to abuse. Children of parents who live with addictions also perform worse in school, and they are at risk of a variety of other negative consequences, such as emotional and behavioral problems and drug and alcohol misuse.

When Do Courts Get Involved?

Courts can become involved in child custody cases for several reasons. First, if parents are separating or divorcing, the court will determine whether the parents are capable of caring for and providing safety for their children. If a parent is found to have an addiction, the court may order treatment and/or award custody to the other parent.

Courts can also become involved if a family is brought to the attention of the child welfare system. For instance, a parent who is arrested for a drug-related charge may be referred to Child Protective Services, or a concerned loved one may call the local child protective agency to report their concerns regarding a parent misusing drugs. If Child Protective Services determines that children are in danger, they may file a complaint in court to protect the children.

Can CPS Take Your Child Away for Drinking or Drug Use?

Laws vary from state to state, but if children are found to be in danger because of parents’ drug or alcohol misuse, Child Protective Services (CPS) may remove the children via a court order. In this case, children may be temporarily placed in foster care or with an appropriate relative until the parent or parents are able to demonstrate that they have completed treatment and are able to safely provide for their children.

How Does Recovery Affect Custody Decisions?

A parent in active addiction may place their children at risk of harm and thus be determined inappropriate for assuming custody of their children. On the other hand, showing a commitment to recovery may demonstrate to the court that a parent with a history of addiction is capable of caring for and maintaining custody of their children.

The State of Washington has legal stipulations that indicate that a court can order parents to complete drug and alcohol abuse evaluations and monitor parents’ participation in treatment services. This means that if you are in recovery, a court may request copies of your treatment records to ensure that you are maintaining a commitment to recovery and complying with all treatment recommendations.

Rehab and Child Custody

If you’re considering going to rehab to recover from addiction, you may be concerned about how this will affect child custody. If you’re not involved with the courts or the child welfare system, you may decide to place your children with a relative who will care for them during your absence. In this case, you may set up a power of attorney, so the relative can make decisions for your child in your absence, but these arrangements often do not require a formal custody change.

On the other hand, if you’re in the midst of custody proceedings or are involved with the child welfare system, you may lose custody, at least temporarily, while in rehab. For instance, if you will be absent for a time to attend rehab, a court may award custody to your former spouse if the two of you are in court to contest custody arrangements. Child Protective Services may also temporarily place your children in foster care or in the custody of a relative while you’re in rehab, with the goal of reunifying you with your children once you complete treatment.

Best Ways To Regain Custody After Drug or Alcohol Addiction

If you’ve been affected by drug and alcohol addiction, the best thing you can do to regain custody is attend a treatment program and complete it successfully. The state of Washington recognizes that in most cases, children in foster care should be reunified with their parents. In fact, when a court removes a child, reunification is the primary goal. If you’re working with the child welfare system, you can regain custody by completing treatment, establishing a good working relationship with your family’s social worker and complying with all recommendations of the court and the child welfare agency.

If you’ve lost custody in family court, such as during divorce or custody proceedings, it is also important to complete treatment, comply with court orders and demonstrate that you’re committed to recovery if you’d like children returned to your care and custody. You may have to work with an attorney to file for a change of custody, and you need to be prepared to provide treatment records and other documentation to show that drug and alcohol abuse no longer interferes with your parenting abilities.

FAQs About Addiction and Custody

If you’re looking for information on addiction and child custody, the answers to the following FAQs may also be helpful.

Do they drug test at child support hearings?

Each case is different, but if there are concerns of drug abuse, a court may order that one or both parents complete a drug test, especially if a custody dispute has arisen out of child support negotiations.

Are there rehabs that allow you to bring your child?

Each rehab facility has its own policies, but there are some that allow parents to bring small children. This is especially common among rehabs that cater to new mothers with infants. Contact a rehab center directly to determine if they allow children.

Can smoking marijuana affect child custody in Washington?

Marijuana is legalized for both recreational and medical purposes in Washington, but as legal experts explain, marijuana can interfere with parenting duties, as it slows reaction time, impairs short-term memory and alters mood. Children can also absorb marijuana secondhand from parental use. Washington law indicates that if a parent is impaired by drug use, this can present a risk of harm to the child and impact child custody decisions. If marijuana use interferes with child safety or sound parenting practices, it can affect custody decisions.

How do you prove alcoholism or drug abuse in custody cases?

If you are in a custody battle and are concerned that your former spouse or partner may be abusing drugs or alcohol, the court may order them to complete drug screenings or a drug and alcohol assessment. The court may also look at a parent’s criminal records to determine if there is a history of offenses related to drugs or alcohol. This information can be used by the judge to make a decision regarding whether or not substance abuse places the children at risk of harm.

Take The Next Step Toward Recovery

Finding a Rehab Center in Washington

Washington State addiction treatment resources are geared toward keeping families together while helping parents recover. If you or any of your loved ones experience a substance use disorder, you do not have to do it alone. Contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield today to speak confidentially with our professional, caring staff, who can assist you in understanding your treatment options.

Our center offers a full range of treatment programs, including residential rehab and outpatient care. Our residential facility offers mountain views, comfortable rooms with housekeeping services, designated smoking areas and a culinary staff. The Recovery Village Ridgefield is an in-network provider for a range of insurance companies, including America’s Choice, First Choice and Aetna. Learn more about the insurance we accept by visiting our insurance page or contacting us.

View Sources

Washington State Legislature. “Definitions.” 2001. Accessed July 24, 2022. Cornell Law School. “Child Custody.” Accessed July 24, 2022.  Oliveros, Arazais & Kaufman, Joan. “Addressing Substance Abuse Treatment Needs of Parents Involved with the Child Welfare System.” Child Welfare, 2011. Accessed July 24, 2022.  Solis, Jessica; Shadur, Julia; Burns, Alison; & Hussong, Andrea. “Understanding the Diverse Needs of Children whose Parents Abuse Substances.” Current Drug Abuse Reviews, June 2012. Accessed July 24, 2022.  Washington State Legislature. “Authority of family court judges and court commissioners to order or recommend services—Report by court of child abuse or neglect.” 1994. Accessed July 25, 2022.  Washington Courts. “Family Reunification Month.” Accessed July 25, 2022.  Petersen, Dana. “High society: Washington state’s recreational cannabis law and its effects on child custody and visitation rights.” Seattle Journal of Social Justice, 2015. Accessed July 25, 2022.