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Examining custody, visitation and substance abuse issues

There is an unfortunate tendency to view addiction as something of an all-or-nothing proposition in the area of family law, meaning many people mistakenly assume that they will have no chance of securing any sort of custody or visitation rights in a divorce due to the existence of an underlying substance abuse problem.

The simple truth, however, is that a divorcing parent with an underlying addiction issue shouldn't just assume that it will serve as some sort of automatic bar preventing them from playing a role in their children's lives.

Indeed, while each case is unique, it's important to understand that absent a finding that a parent is unfit or incarcerated, there's a good chance that both parents will be awarded joint legal custody, meaning they will both have a say in important decisions related to things like education, religion and health care.

However, where the issue of substance abuse is more likely to come into play before the court is when both physical custody and visitation rights must be established.

When making these sorts of determinations, the guiding principle for the court is always what's in the best interests of the child. While every case is unique, legal experts have long indicated that what most courts find to be in the best interests of the child is them having access to both parents (provided both are fit).

What this means for a parent battling drug or alcohol addiction is that while seeking to secure primary physical custody may prove to be something an uphill battle, a court may prove receptive to granting them the right to see their children on a regular basis. However, this visitation may be subject to certain conditions depending on the circumstances.

For example, if the evidence before the judge shows that a parent has worked hard to combat their substance abuse issues, but hasn't been sober for a prolonged period, there's a good chance they will be granted supervised visitation and/or be required to submit to mandatory drug testing.

While this may seem less than ideal, consider that this arrangement could change to basic visitation rights further down the road if the parent can demonstrate their prolonged sobriety to the court.

What all of this serves to underscore is that those parents with substance abuse issues shouldn't automatically assume that they will lose all access to their children in the event of a divorce, and that both child custody and visitation are complex legal matters that often necessitate the services of a skilled legal professional. 

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