Millions of people in this country struggle with some type of substance abuse, such as alcoholism and addiction to prescription painkillers. It's a frequent issue in child custody cases. If a couple's dispute over custody or visitation goes to court, either during a divorce or at some later time, a judge can consider one or both parents' abuse of or addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Family Court Investigations

Family law judges have as their primary standard what's in the best interests of the child. To determine that, in most jurisdictions, they are allowed to investigate the lifestyle and background of any parent seeking custody. This investigation can include testimony from family, friends and work colleagues regarding a person's drinking or drug use. They may allow sworn testimony from witnesses for both sides regarding the impact of a person's alleged substance abuse on his or her ability to parent.

Courts may look at whether a parent has a criminal record linked to abuse, such as DUIs or arrests for fights. There may be psychiatric evaluations involved. The person's ability to hold down a job will likely be factored in.

Ideally, courts want children to be able to have access to both parents. However, if a judge determines that a parent's addiction or alcoholism impacts the safety and welfare of a child, he or she may be able to deny that parent custody or even remove the child from the parent's custody.

Treatment Programs and Alcohol/Drug Testing

Parents who agree to take steps to battle their addiction, such as entering a treatment program, can help their chances of being able to spend time with their children. Of course, that involves someone admitting that he or she has a problem, which too many people aren't prepared to do. Parents who enter treatment programs are often required to submit to regular alcohol or drug testing in order to maintain visitation and custody rights and eventually be granted greater rights.

Custody battles can get ugly, and sometimes one parent will wrongly accuse the other of substance abuse. It's the court's job to determine whether the allegation is founded and, if so, what steps need to be taken. Family law attorneys can help parents who are in danger of custody or visitation rights due to allegations of substance abuse -- whether true or false -- fight to do what is necessary to maintain a relationship with their child that's healthy for everyone.