In previous articles we discussed that Georgia courts will look to the best interests of the child when determining many issues surrounding child custody and visitation. A court is inclined to favor continued contact with both parents and implement some sort of shared custody arrangement, when possible. The court will consider a variety of factors when making this determination, such as the mental and physical health of each parent and the parents’ involvement in the child’s life. One factor that can impact all the court’s determination is drug use and drug charges of either parent.

The court will consider the severity and recurrence of a parent’s illegal drug use. If the use occurred before the marriage or before the child was born, it may not be as relevant to a child custody issue as other factors. However, more recent and habitual use demonstrates to the court that the parent is not fit to care for the child and cannot provide a safe environment for the child.  In cases in which a parent has recurrent drug abuse and arrests, the court has the discretion to award sole custody to the other parent. The court can then go even further when it comes to visitation. The court may decide that limited visitation or even supervised visitation is in the best interest of the child.

This is not to say that the court will not try to assist the parent involved in drug use. The court may consider factors surrounding the parent’s current drug use as well as postpone the custody hearing until the parent’s criminal case is resolved or the parent can seek treatment. At the custody hearing, the judge may order the parent to refrain from drugs and alcohol for a certain period prior to visitation with the child – usually 24 hours. Finally, the court may order future drug testing and retain authority to modify custody and visitation in the future depending on the outcome of those tests. Again, this is all meant to help the parent stay away from illegal activities and to ensure a safe environment for the child.

A parent who has been convicted of drug crimes or is currently struggling with drug abuse can testify that he or she is remorseful for his or her actions and that he or she is currently in a recovery program to prevent a relapse. It is equally important for the parent to demonstrate that he or she has a positive support system among friends and family.

If you are contemplating initiating a child custody or visitation case that involves a parent with substance abuse issues, please contact the attorneys at Vayman & Teitelbaum. Our dedicated team will help to ensure the protection of your child and advocate for a parenting plan that meets the best interests of the child.