Hey, pass the eggnog: Safety-focused parenting plans for alcohol abuse

Florida public policy states that a child should have “frequent and continuing contact with both parents” if it is in the child’s best interest. When a parent has an alcohol addiction, an important issue in divorce is whether the parties or the court can create a parenting plan that would allow a child to safely spend time with that parent, but only if it would be in the child’s best interest.

Broadly, Florida statute provides that to determine a child’s best interests, anything “affecting [their] welfare and interests” should be evaluated, including several factors in a long list. One of them is the “demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.”

It is well known how damaging it can be for a child to have a parent whose addiction is out of control. Such a child could have problems in childhood and into adulthood with trust, self-esteem, fear, isolation, depression, anxiety, perfectionism and other emotional issues. They are at higher risk of addiction themselves.

Alcohol and other addictions are very tough to overcome. As explained by NBC News, changes in the brain cause ongoing cravings, so the problem is not just behavioral, but also biological. But in serious cases, the addicted parent is going to have to directly address the problem to be able to spend normal family time with their children.

The parenting plan

A parenting plan is a detailed document setting out parental decision-making and care responsibilities, the child’s residential arrangements and a detailed schedule for time-sharing between the parents. (Time-sharing is traditionally called visitation.)

The Florida Supreme Court has approved family law forms to guide parents in either negotiating a plan or for one parent to propose to the court if they cannot agree on a joint proposal. If the parents do not submit an agreed-upon plan for court approval, the judge will either adopt or modify one submitted for review by one parent or the court may create a new one.

When alcohol (or another addiction) is a parental issue, the parties can use a Florida Supreme Court form called a “supervised/safety-focused parenting plan.” They may modify the form or add additional provisions, as appropriate. Ultimately, the court must approve every parenting plan.

The form includes options impacting child safety, including:

  • The addicted parent could be given no physical or electronic contact with the child or no decision-making power.
  • Visitation with that parent could be only under supervision of a third party.
  • Visitation could include restrictions like no overnights or time-sharing only in public or in a supervised visitation center.
  • Child transportation in a vehicle can be restricted.
  • Attendance at the child’s activities could be off the table or if allowed, the addicted parent could be required to stay away from the other parent and the child.
  • Restrictions could be put on guns and on physical discipline.
  • The addicted parent could be required not to drink alcohol for 24 hours before child contact through the time when the child is returned to the other parent.

Other provisions that might be appropriate include requiring alcohol testing, treatment, 12-step programming, psychotherapy or breathalyzer use.

If the first plan does not work …

Should the parent with the addiction not comply with the parenting plan safeguards, the other parent should speak with an attorney about enforcing the plan – which is a court order – as well as about requesting a plan modification based on significant change of circumstances. On a positive note, a parent may be successful enough in treatment to expand time-sharing with their children.

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
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