It is not uncommon for one parent to allege that the other parent has a drug or alcohol issue when a couple split up. Why? Well sometimes the drug or alcohol consumption is mentioned in passing as ‘no big deal’ with an acknowledgement that the parent is great with the kids; in other families there is a genuine concern for the children as the alcohol or drug consumption has gone beyond recreational use and was the reason behind the relationship breakdown. Finally, sometimes allegations are made that are untrue as a means to stop contact or the alcohol or drug use is blown out of all proportion to the reality as a justification to stop the children seeing the other parent. In these instances, it is highly recommended to instruct a children law expert to help you.

Parental substance misuse is, for clear reasons, taken very seriously and if you are unsure if this is relevant to you, read one of our recent blogs related to this topic to understand what is parental substance misuse. The issue of drug and alcohol testing in divorce and children cases has hit the headlines with reports in the Daily Mail that James Stunt allegedly provided false samples for drug testing during his divorce from Petra Ecclestone. 

If one parent uses drugs or alcohol it can have an impact on their ability to look after their children or impact on how much time they should spend with the children. Many parents, despite the trauma of a split, are able to sort out child care and contact arrangements with the help of a solicitor, mediator or therapist, working around the alcohol or drug issues.

If a mum of teenage boys knows her boys want to see their dad she can minimise the risks posed by her ex and his alcohol issues by insisting that the children aren’t driven in a car by their father and that a relative stays in Dad’s house when the boys stay over. In a different scenario with a toddler the risks and issues may be very different.

Where drug or alcohol abuse is denied or parents can’t reach agreement on the impact, if any, the drug / alcohol use should have on the child care arrangements the parents may have to ask the Court to decide how much time the children should spend with each parent and under what conditions.

Children Court Applications and Alcohol and Drug Testing

A parent can ask the Court to order that drug or alcohol testing is undertaken by the other parent before contact with a child takes place.  The parent who is alleged to have a drug or alcohol issue can refuse to be tested and the Court can’t force him or her to undergo a test. Obviously questions may be asked about the reason for the refusal and sometimes inferences can be drawn.

The Court is normally robust in looking behind the reasons why testing is being sought. Background information is needed, for example if a parent alleges that the alcohol misuse by the other parent is longstanding but before the split up both parents shared the care of the children the question could be raised about why the alcohol or drug use is now a welfare concern for the children. If only occasional drug use is alleged a Court may want to question if the usage impacts on the children before ordering tests, for example if a has always parent limited recreational drug usage to times that the children aren’t being looked after by them.

Why does the Court take this approach to drug and alcohol testing?

The Court looks at what is in the best interests of a child and therefore is only concerned with allegations of drug or alcohol use if they impact on the parent’s ability to look after or spend time with the children.

If there are serious concerns about a child’s welfare, either before or after drug or alcohol testing, the Court can ask CAFCASS or Social Services to prepare a report. The Court can also order expert reports such as psychological assessments or can make referrals for parents to attend parenting courses. There are lots of reasons why these referrals are made; sometimes to help family dynamics where there is a parent with an alcohol or drug issues or, in other extremes, where false allegations of drug usage have been made and the family need help with parental alienation issues.

How are drug tests undertaken in children court cases?  

If a Court orders testing and a parent agrees to the testing then it can take a variety of forms: hair, blood, urine. If you read the Daily Mail article you might think it is easy for parents to falsify reports but if a test is arranged privately through solicitors or the Court then samples are obtained in the presence of a medical professional and after formal identification of the person providing the sample.

What to do next?

If any parent finds that they are in a dilemma about whether their children should see their other parent as a result of concerns about drug or alcohol use the important thing is to speak to a professional to discuss the issues and explore the options for contact to take place in a safe environment,

If you are a parent facing a battle to see your children because of allegations of alcohol or drug use it is equally important to get professional advice. That is because the longer you don’t see the children for the tougher it can become to get to see them again and resolve the family dynamics that led to the allegations.

Whether you are a parent worried about your ex’s drug use or a parent desperate to see the children the important thing to remember is that the Court and professionals approach is to do what is in the children’s best interests, and that can include contact if it is best for a child to maintain a relationship with both parents in a safe environment.

For information or advice about children law and child care arrangements where there are allegations of drug or alcohol misuse please give me a call on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at [email protected]