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Can an Alcoholic Get Child Custody?

Alcohol plays a large part in many of our lives, from weekly happy hours and power lunches for work, to a beer at a ballgame or glass of wine with dinner. So it's not surprising that alcohol use could be a factor in a divorce. Booze doesn't always reveal our best selves, and excessive drinking can create or exacerbate tensions within a relationship.

So who decides when alcohol use becomes abuse, and how? And can those determinations affect child custody decisions? Here's a quick look at alcoholism and child custody.

Parents and Child Custody

The overriding force in all child custody decisions is the best interests of the child. That means that all custody and visitation decisions will be made with the child's happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development in mind. Even if you are negotiating child custody out of court, the child's best interests will be the most important component to a successful and enforceable custody arrangement.

Particular factors that courts will consider when determining what's in a child's best interests can include the child's own wishes (if he or she is old enough), the need for continuation of a stable home environment, and any adjustments to a new school or community. And when deciding who gets custody, courts will also look at whether there is a pattern of domestic violence in the home, any excessive discipline or emotional abuse, as wells as evidence of parental drug or alcohol abuse.

Alcoholics and Alcohol Abuse

Just because a parent drinks does not mean they will lose custody or visitation rights. And just because a parent has been diagnosed as an alcoholic or an addict does not mean they will automatically be denied those rights. Having a beer here and there does not make you a bad parent, and recovering alcoholics who have a track record of sobriety and responsibility can be just as capable to provide for a child's best interests.

But if drinking interferes with the parent-child relationship or an alcoholic cannot responsibly manage their addiction, that may mean denial or loss of custody. Evidence of alcohol abuse is a factor in child custody decisions -- including visitation rights and conditions -- and long-term incapacity due to alcohol abuse can even be grounds for termination of parental rights.

Whether you're worried that a prior diagnosis of or treatment for alcoholism will negatively affect your custody rights, or you think your spouse or ex drinks too much to be trusted with your children, contact an experienced child custody attorney to discuss your rights and legal options.

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