Drugs, Alcohol, and Children: When to Request Supervised Visitation / by Cassandra Hearn

Custody decisions are made based on the child's best interest, and the basic assumption is that a child will be best served by sharing time with both parents. However, when one parent is abusing drugs or alcohol, it may be necessary to request supervised visitation to protect a child. Making such a request could mean the abusing parent will need to submit to drug or alcohol testing. The requesting parent will need to provide evidence as to why testing may be necessary, which can include presenting: eye witness testimony, medical records, or evidence that the parent has recent criminal charges or convictions involving drugs or alcohol.

 When contemplating the appropriateness of supervised visits, the judge will consider the timing of visits, the location for visits, and who should pay for the cost of supervised visits. The visits may take place at a special location - there are centers specifically designed to provide a safe, neutral location for the visits to take place. For example, one of the most frequently used facilities in San Diego is Hannah’s House.  The third party supervisors in these centers have special training in recognizing the signs of substance abuse, and so can provide important feedback on the recovery and progress of the other parent. They will also have special training in the developmental needs of children, child abuse reporting requirements, and basic family law procedures, among many other areas. Private court-approved monitors are also frequently used, as locations and costs vary widely. It is also possible to use a non-professional supervisor such as a neutral friend, extended family member, or even a nanny. Each type of supervisor must meet specific requirements, which a judge will consider before deciding on an appropriate supervisor. 

 Depending on the severity of the allegations, the court could order that custody and visitation stop altogether until a framework is put in place for the addicted parent to demonstrate he or she can interact safely with the child. The court may require the addicted parent to submit to drug or alcohol testing before being allowed visits and in some more extreme cases, a judge may require several clean tests in a row before scheduling the visits at all and therapeutic intervention when appropriate. Drug and alcohol tests, including random testing, may be continually ordered during the case to keep up with a parent's recovery process. 

 It is important to carefully consider whether supervised visitation is really necessary before making such a request. Although the primary inquiry is how to keep a child safe, a judge also looks to whether one parent has facilitated contact between the child and other parent. Unnecessary attempts to block access or hinder communication between a child and the other parent are taken very seriously by the court, and can have an adverse impact on your custody request. That said, supervised visitation can sometimes be necessary, but it is important to consider the options carefully and discuss it with your attorney.

 It is also important to note that drug and alcohol abuse are not the only reasons to order supervised visits.  In cases involving domestic violence or abuse against the child, it is common to have supervised contact.  Moreover, if a parent has no relationship with a child, supervised visits may be appropriate for a short time to help the child and parent form a bond and get to know each other.

  If you believe supervised visits may be necessary in your custody or divorce proceeding call us today at 619-800-0384. We can talk with you about your options and help design a strategy to protect your child.