Can Substance Abuse Affect Child Custody?

Yes, substance abuse can affect child custody. In specific circumstances, like when treatment is court-ordered or when child welfare services are involved, you may lose custody of your children while in treatment. However, if you know you need help and are seeking treatment on your own accord, you may have more say in the care options for your children while you’re in rehab.

Can You Lose Custody For Going To Rehab?

Even if you do not meet the criteria for a substance use disorder (SUD), your pattern of misuse may still harm your child. If addiction exposes your child to any of the following, there is a potential for losing custody:

Addiction impacts a child’s ability to thrive personally, socially, and academically. Therefore, they can be placed in a healthier environment until you can provide a home that meets all their needs.

Many courts like to see a parent willing to go to rehab to get help overcoming their addiction. The courts will likely work with you to reunify you and your children once you complete a treatment program.

Types Of Custody

Child custody is not always an all-or-nothing situation. There are various types of custody to consider, such as:

  • Legal custody gives a parent the right to decide where a child attends school, religious practices, extracurricular activities, physical and mental health care, and anything else related to their upbringing.
  • Sole legal custody gives one parent the right to make all decisions regarding the child without consulting with the other parent.
  • Joint legal custody allows both parents to share in making major decisions regarding their child. The primary caregiver usually makes basic daily decisions.
  • Physical, legal custody is given to the parent who can most meet the child’s daily physical needs. Physical custody can be granted solely to a custodial parent or jointly to both parents. Joint custody requires established co-parenting plans. Non-custodial parents are usually given visitation rights.

Additional custody arrangements include birdnesting, a housing situation that follows divorce. Birdnesting allows the child to remain in a consistent home environment while the parents take turns living with them in the family home (and living elsewhere on their “off” days). While not a feasible option for all, birdnesting can be beneficial if one parent is needing to go to rehab.

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The Best Interest Of The Child

If the court is involved, they will evaluate what is in the child’s best interests, including their age, gender, and if they have special needs or disabilities. To do this, the courts answer the following questions:

  • Can the parent meet the child’s educational, extracurricular, safety, and routine needs?
  • Is the parent mentally and physically healthy enough to care for the child?
  • Can the parent provide emotional and financial support for the child?
  • Is the parent’s lifestyle stable, and does it offer consistency for the child?
  • Can the child maintain relationships with siblings and other family members?
  • Can the child continue to foster a healthy relationship with their other parent?

While determining what’s in the child’s best interest is very nuanced, the courts use those questions and other factors to decide.

Fit VS. Unfit Parenting

To lose custody of a child, the state or tribe must prove that you are an unfit parent and that separation is in the child’s best interest. The definition of unfit includes parental behaviors that cause an unsafe environment that doesn’t meet the child’s needs. Examples of unfit parent behaviors include the following:

  • Abandonment of the child
  • Repeated incapacity
  • Long-term mental illness of the parent
  • Long-term alcohol or drug misuse by parent
  • Failure to stay in contact with the child

Each state provides services to help parents regain child custody within a specific timeline. Parents who fail to make efforts are more likely to have their rights terminated.

Going to rehab is a great way to show you are serious about recovery and being a good parent. Remember: going to rehab is not always a determinant for losing custody of children and should not deter you from seeking treatment.

Going To Rehab When You Have Children

When a parent is misusing drugs or alcohol, it affects the entire family, especially children. In a study published in Developmental Psychopathology, researchers found specific ways a parent’s addiction impacts a child’s overall well-being. Children were more likely to develop the following:

Children of parents with SUDs do not receive the physical and emotional support they need to thrive. Going to rehab and learning to maintain recovery is one of the best ways to improve children’s outcomes.

How To Prepare For Rehab If You Have Kids

Preparing for rehab involves choosing where you seek treatment. Options include inpatient rehab, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient treatment. Inpatient and residential programs require staying at the treatment facility with supervised living. Partial care and intensive outpatient care allow living at home but require multiple days of attendance and participation.

After making a treatment decision, there are other ways to prepare for rehab if you have kids.

Communicate With Your Kids

Talk openly and honestly with children at their level of understanding. Kids are smart and likely already sense something is wrong. Give them an explanation of addiction that they can understand and follow the explanation with the solution to the problem, which is entering rehab. Key points to include are:

  • Addiction is not their fault.
  • Rehab is temporary, and you will return.
  • They will be able to see and speak to you.
  • Explain your expected timeline away from home.
  • Discuss arrangements for them while you are away.
  • You love them and are still their parent.

Allow children to express their feelings and validate them.

Ask For Help In Caring For Your Kids

If you can participate in the process, asking for help from a loved one lets you know exactly where your children will be during your time in rehab. Children need a stable environment with structure, safety, routine, love, and support. Do not ask a person with a SUD to watch them.

Many turn to grandparents, significant others, siblings, friends, or extended family members. Choose a guardian who can:

  • Help you keep in touch with your children.
  • Bring them to scheduled family visits and therapy sessions.
  • Maintain their school and extracurricular activities schedules.
  • Provide and seek emergency and non-emergency medical care.
  • Keep up with their developmental or special needs.
  • Make parental decisions on your behalf.
  • Keep siblings together.
  • Preserve the child’s cultural identity.

If able, show support to your child’s guardian by offering financial support and providing them with food and other necessities your child will need while you are in rehab. Continue to pay for childcare or arrange for more than one person to share the duties of caring for your child to avoid them feeling overwhelmed.

Look Into Kinship Care Options

Kinship care is the term used to describe a situation when children are placed in the care of (and often live with) relatives. It can be a preferred option for those looking to enter rehab, as it helps maintain familial connections and minimizes the trauma of separation. It encompasses three types of childcare when a birth parent is absent, including informal, voluntary, and formal kinship care.

Informal Kinship Care

Informal kinship care occurs without child welfare involvement. Parents make arrangements for their children without the involvement of the legal system, and children do not become custody of child protective services. Typically, a grandparent or close relative agrees to care for the child until the parent returns from treatment. Informal kinship caregivers are not given a fostering allowance and are not required to have a fostering license or certification.

Voluntary Kinship Care

Voluntary kinship care is when the child welfare system is involved in placing the child with relatives. Parents seeking treatment work with social services and allow temporary guardianship to a relative. Children may remain in their homes or move to a relative’s home. The caregiver is given a fostering allowance and may or may not have a license or certificate.

Formal Kinship Care

Formal kinship care occurs when a state or tribe receives legal custody but chooses to place the child with relatives. The caregiver receives a fostering allowance but is not always required to have a license. Children usually move to their caregiver’s home.

Non-Relative Foster Care

The child welfare system may choose to place a child in the care of a non-relative if it thinks it will benefit the child. The caregiver receives a fostering allowance and must have a fostering license or certificate.

Notify Important Parties In Your Child’s Life

Children interact directly and indirectly with many people, including daycare workers, teachers, family friends, neighbors, and stepparents. It is beneficial to children for everyone to know the upcoming changes. While not everyone you notify will offer you support, they may be willing to support your children.

Notifying others also helps break the stigma of going to rehab. Addiction is a brain disorder that requires special treatment. It takes strength and bravery to complete rehab, and it teaches children to seek help when needed.

Best Ways To Regain Custody After Drug Abuse Treatment

Court systems work to reunify parents with children separated by custody loss due to addiction. Completing a treatment program successfully shows a judge you are serious about recovery. You can take other steps to regain custody after drug abuse treatment, including the following:

  • Continue outpatient treatment to maintain recovery.
  • Build a good relationship with your family’s caseworker.
  • File a custody modification so you can start spending more time with your child.
  • Provide evidence of clean drug or alcohol screens.
  • Take parenting classes or any other recommendations by the judge.
  • Maintain employment and show you are financially stable.
  • Provide proof of a stable home environment.
  • Stay away from people, places, and things associated with substance abuse.
  • Stay out of legal trouble.
  • Be patient, compliant, and transparent with the courts.

Losing custody of a child is painful for any parent. With these steps, you may increase your chances of getting custody back.

Get Help Today

Although addiction and substance misuse can lead to custody loss, it does not mean the separation is permanent. It can be temporary while you make much-needed changes in your life.

Don’t let fear of losing custody during rehab be a barrier to recovery. Connect with a treatment provider today to explore your rehab options and start building a happier, healthier future for yourself and your children.