Child Custody and DUI / by Cassandra Hearn

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Driving Under the Influence is a serious problem, with over 1,000 alcohol-involved fatal collisions annually in the state of California alone.  Being convicted of a DUI can have far-reaching consequences for your life.  If you are involved in a child custody dispute, a DUI can also have a serious impact on your court case.

In California, child custody determinations are made according to what is in a child’s best interest.  Although whether a parent has been arrested or convicted of DUI is not one of the factors, a parent’s habitual alcohol use is relevant to the court’s decision.  Family Code 3011(d) provides that before considering habitual alcohol abuse, a court may require corroborating evidence of abuse, such as police reports or arrest records from a DUI.  In addition, the child’s safety and welfare is always a central focus for the best interest determination.  If a parent’s DUI arrest occurred with the child in the car, the court will take this very seriously, as it is clearly behavior that placed the child in danger.  Even if a parent was not arrested for DUI when the child was in the car, multiple DUI arrests and convictions will demonstrate to the court that the parent likely has a serious substance abuse problem which will weigh heavily against an award of custody to that parent.  As with other criminal activities, the more recent the DUI arrest, the more relevant it will be for a custody decision.  A DUI from twenty years ago is unlikely to have much bearing at all on the ultimate custody decision, especially if the parent has not continued to abuse alcohol and has not had any more arrests since that time.  A DUI arrest that happens during the pendency of the case will be given much more weight.  The judge has wide latitude when making decisions about what is in a child’s best interest, and especially where the DUI is a first offense, the judge may still award custody to that parent.  The best interest statute provides that if there is evidence of habitual alcohol abuse and the court nevertheless awards sole or joint custody to that parent, the judge must make specific findings in the final order explaining why the decision was in the child’s best interest despite the alcohol abuse.

If you are involved in a child custody case and there are allegations about DUI or alcohol abuse, you need an experienced attorney.  Call us today so we can talk about how we can protect you and your children.