NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

June 4, 2019 by Patrick Bailey

Today's post was written by a guest blogger, Patrick Bailey.

In many jurisdictions, drug or alcohol addiction can have a significant impact on parental rights during or after divorce proceedings. Courts have denied both physical and legal custody, and even visitation rights, to individuals suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse. Some courts also take the history of drug abuse into account, impacting the parent's ability to have custody years into recovery.

Restoring Visitation or Custody Rights

Addiction is considered a disease, rather than a choice or indication of moral failing. Unlike other diseases, however, parents facing addiction can lose custody of their children. This might come after Child Protective Services deems the living situation unsafe for the child due to neglect or abuse. Likewise, in a shared parenting situation, one parent can go to the court and accuse the other parent of being unfit due to substance use.

A court can also decide to revoke custody under three circumstances:

  • failing a drug test during custody hearings
  • being arrested on drug or alcohol-related charges
  • failing a drug test following a report of neglect or abuse made to CPS

For many parents with a substance abuse disorder, the possibility of losing custody can add a significant level of stress to the already-stressful recovery process. It can be helpful to both the parent and the child to have the courts outline the process necessary to restore visitation rights. In some jurisdictions, it might mean attending inpatient rehab, attending support groups or counseling, and passing drug tests before supervised visitation or regaining custody.

Regardless of the requirements, parents should insist on having them in writing, along with ways they can prove to the court that they are in compliance. Without having a plan legally documented, it can be difficult to prove that the steps necessary to demonstrate the ability to parent have been taken.

Reconnecting and Bonding

Following treatment and once custody or visitation has been restored, the long process of reconnecting and bonding with your child begins. It can be a difficult process. After all, you and your children have been through a lot. Your children have faced life-altering changes, from your addiction to the divorce to your absence due to rehab. They might have a lot of questions and will certainly test boundaries and try to find ways to express their strong emotions.

During recovery, you have an opportunity to rebuild your relationship with your children and to start your new life together, as both someone in recovery and as a coparent. The following are ways to make bonding with your children easier.

Be Honest about your Addiction

Your children, regardless of their ages, probably have some level of understanding regarding what you went through. Even if you attempted to hide your substance use, they likely noticed that you were less connected as a parent or that there were significant upheavals happening.

An important step in reconnecting is to be honest, yet age-appropriate, with your children. Use your experiences as a stepping stone for discussions on making good choices or overcoming adversity. Being honest allows them to see that mistakes don't define you and that you can overcome obstacles with hard work and perseverance.

Allow Your Children to Express their Feelings

Your children likely have powerful emotions to work through after your addiction, divorce, and recovery. Young children especially might not have the vocabulary to express their hurt or anger and older children and teens might not feel comfortable expressing those feelings to you. They may instead push boundaries, rebel, or express their feelings in destructive ways.

To prevent that, it can be helpful to find counseling or support groups for your children. This allows them to identify their emotions and work through them so that they can begin to reconnect with you.

It might also be helpful to attend family therapy with your child, and even your co-parent. Many rehab facilities have family programs available that specialize in helping children and their parents heal following addiction.

Develop a Schedule and Routines

It is likely that your life has been unpredictable before and during your recovery process and divorce. Having structure is an important part of your recovery, and it can also give children a sense of predictability, safety, and security.

Especially in the early days of reconnecting with your children, develop a daily and weekly schedule and post it where everyone can see. This allows you to be accountable, lowering the risk of a relapse, while also giving your children information they need to feel more secure.

Having a schedule that everyone can see also helps your children regain their trust in you. Each time you bring your children to an event on the schedule, pick your child up on time and attend play dates and special events, your children see that you are prioritizing them and are a reliable and safe person.

Be Present in the Now

It's likely that with the recent upheaval in your life, the everyday routine things in life got tossed aside. Now is the time to enjoy time together doing the simple things – work on homework with your child after school, develop a soothing bedtime routine that you and your child do every night, and sit down to read books each day. While it is often the big things in life – vacations, holidays, special occasions, etc. – that capture our attention, it is the simple routine things that help with bonding and become lifelong memories.

While the road to regaining custody after your substance abuse disorder is long and difficult, being able to reconnect and bond with your child in recovery makes it all worth it. If you are currently facing custody issues due to a substance abuse disorder, the best thing you can do to regain custody is to get treatment from a qualified rehab facility and in particular, one that offers family-centered programs designed to help your whole family heal and take the first step towards your new future together.

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