I’m a year sober. Can my alcoholism hurt my child custody chances?

I’m an alcoholic who endured domestic violence in my marriage. My husband exploited my addiction when he wanted an excuse to replace me. Now he’s trying to use it as a means to get custody. Can this damage my case even though I’m a year sober?

Yes, oh heavens yes, this can damage your case. This does not mean that it inevitably will damage your case, but it certainly can, if the court believes that your addiction history somehow constitutes a serious danger or a serious risk of harm to the children now.

Now before you throw your hands up in despair and quit, understand that while you cannot change the past, you still have a lot going for you.

There’s nothing you can do to change your past, but given that your past also includes a year of sobriety behind you, the court is likely willing to let you try to persuade it that you can be trusted with the care and custody of your children going forward. Give the court every reason to give you at least that losing chance.

Being one year sober—assuming that you can prove this to the satisfaction of the court— is not a fact the court can or should easily dismiss. At the same time, being a year sober does not mean that you should no longer be subject to scrutiny.

To show that you are serious about kicking addiction, truthfully acknowledge the past and do not try to explain it away. At the same time, do not allow anyone to dwell on the past unduly.

Be willing to subject yourself to random drug and/or alcohol screenings (depending upon what your addictions are or were) to show the court that you have nothing to hide and that you have the humility to acknowledge that your ex-spouse and the court have good reason to be concerned about your parental fitness if you were to fall back into addiction. Being willing to subject yourself to random testing also shows that you put your children’s best interest above your self-interest and convenience.

Continue to see a therapist and attend AA or other programs. Show your ex and the court that you are not afraid to get help and that receiving help is not a badge of shame, but of strength and maturity for a parent in your position.

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