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Substance abuse in Family Law

We as Australians have a culture of acceptance, to a large extent, when it comes to the consumption of alcohol, but alcohol use and abuse can have a huge impact on family law matters, particularly relating to children. Where alcohol abuse is considered serious enough it may mean that the children will need to live with the other parent, or only spend very limited periods of time with the drinking parent.

Alcohol abuse and substance abuse generally, is frequently raised as an issue of concern in parenting cases before the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. Alcohol abuse, and the use and misuse of other drugs, can impact on the ability of a parent to adequately care for their children, or may cause fear or distress in children and other family members, particularly when the substance abuse leads to family violence or aggressive behaviour.

Substance abuse is one of many factors that may be relevant to the determination of what is in the best interests of a child.  The Court is required to take allegations of substance abuse very seriously. Where alcohol abuse allegations are made, the Court has the power to order that one or both of the parents undergo testing to ascertain how much alcohol that parent has been drinking recently, over a period of months.

If a parent denies they have a problem, but refuses to undertake testing, the Court may draw an inference that the parent does have an alcohol or other drug problem.  Hair, urine and blood test results can often take parents by surprise, particularly if they do not consider their drinking to be problematic.

Where alcohol has been an issue for a parent, Court Orders can be made for parents to be restrained from consuming alcohol while children are in their care, and that they not consume alcohol for a period of hours prior to the children coming into their care.  In the most serious cases alcohol abuse may prevent a parent from spending time alone with, or for overnight periods, with their children.

If alcohol abuse is an issue for someone in your child’s life and you would like advice about the issue, please contact our family law team to arrange an appointment. 

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