According to data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1 in 8 children in the U.S. lives with at least one parent who has a substance use disorder. Substance use disorders, as defined by the survey, are marked by repeated use of alcohol or other drugs leading to significant impairment. 

Children in homes where one or more adults abuse alcohol, drugs, or both, are more likely to experience adverse childhood events

When impaired by drugs or alcohol, parents may: 

  • Be unable to provide appropriate supervision of children
  • Have trouble regulating emotions
  • Struggle to control their anger and impulsivity

In addition, the habitual and excessive use of drugs or alcohol can strain the financial resources of a family. Further, the time a parent spends finding, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol and drugs detracts from the time they can spend with a child. 

Obviously, a parent’s uncontrolled drug or alcohol abuse can have damaging impacts on a child. An experienced child custody attorney can help a concerned parent ask the court to order the other parent to submit to a drug test. If needed, an attorney can help a parent ask the court for a modification of the child custody order based on the results of the drug test.  

Drug Use and the Best Interest of the Child

California law lists the factors courts use to determine the best interest of the child. Courts will consider a parent’s “habitual or continual” abuse of alcohol or prescription drugs as well as a parent’s “habitual or continual” illegal use of controlled substances. The court will look for links between the use of drugs or alcohol and the child’s welfare. 

Children who live in homes with at least one parent who abuses drugs or alcohol are at increased risk of: 

  • Unsatisfactory progress in school
  • Emotional and behavioral problems (higher risk of depression and anxiety)
  • Low self-esteem

These negative effects are not the only risks for children of parents with substance use disorders. They are also more likely to be physically, verbally, or sexually abused. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, children of parents with substance use disorders are likely to try drugs or alcohol earlier than other children. Sadly, they are twice as likely to develop addiction problems themselves. 

Supporting the Request for a Drug Test

Unfortunately, in some cases, a parent may make false allegations of drug use. Sometimes, their ultimate goal is a decrease in child support

In other cases, a parent’s substance abuse disorder can form the basis for a change in child custody, if it constitutes a change in circumstances. Ordinarily, the change has to come about after the court issues its original child custody order. 

California law favors a child’s “frequent and continuing” contact with both parents. Before restricting either parent’s custody, the courts must have a convincing reason. 

The court may require supporting evidence of allegations of substance abuse. 

Such supporting evidence can include written reports from:

  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Courts
  • Probation departments
  • Social welfare agencies
  • Medical facilities

The court may also accept written documentation from rehabilitation facilities or other public agencies or nonprofit organizations providing drug and alcohol abuse services. 

How the Court May Use the Results of a Drug Test

Child custody cases, particularly in the context of divorce, can be high-conflict. While a parent’s drug and alcohol use can genuinely harm a child, there are also responsible ways to consume. So, courts will not automatically revoke a parent’s custody based on a positive drug test result. 

However, experienced family law attorneys with in-depth knowledge of California case law can help a parent gather evidence of the negative impacts of parental substance abuse. This evidence may influence the court’s child custody decision. 

A parent’s substance use disorder can be overcome. There may be cases where a parent can show evidence of rehabilitation or recovery. In other cases, the court may find it appropriate to permit a parent to undertake rehabilitation or recovery efforts before making a child custody decision. 

Should you Request a Drug Test in Your Child Custody Case?

A knowledgeable family law attorney can help you evaluate the facts of your case. With an understanding of the facts of your case and their knowledge of California law, an attorney can help you decide whether it is appropriate to request a drug test in your child custody case. 

A thorough attorney will also let you know that there may be risks involved in requesting a drug test. For example, the other parent may return a negative drug test result. 

Many parents have histories of using alcohol or drugs together. As a result, the other parent may also request a drug test. It is critical to give honest responses to any attorney representing you if you want to request a drug test in your child custody case.