Regular readers of these entries will notice a frequent flippancy. Sometimes Virginia law deserves a tweak on the nose, a banana peel in its path. Not today. Some Virginia fathers are faced with real crises that compound divorce, children and addiction in a terrible trio of torment. While divorce is stressful, struggling with child support or child custody for an addicted tween or teen is far more stressful. Many Virginia Dads might feel utterly alone. Take heart: you are not alone.
Virginia’s Addicted Youth
Virginia, like most of America, has an addiction problem. Not only adult men and women become addicted to drugs or alcohol. The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) provides a snapshot of Virginia’s teen problem with data from 2015:
- 23 percent of Virginia high school students said they had at least 1 drink of alcohol on at least 1 day out of the previous 30 days
- 30 percent of high school students stated they used marijuana 1 or more times
- 3 percent of adolescents ages 12-17 reported that they needed, but did not receive, treatment for alcohol use
- 3 percent of adolescents ages 12-17 said they needed, but did not receive, treatment for illicit drug use
Though rampant teen addiction across the Commonwealth is fodder for Virginia news media, to you the story is about one child: your own.
Whatever your child’s addiction, you have your hands full trying to get help, paying for treatment, and teaching your child to change behaviors. Divorce compounds your challenge.
Divorce and Addiction
Drug abuse in households often creates the final stress that breaks a marriage. Spouses disagree on treatment programs for their addicted children; one spouse may not even admit the child is addicted. Substance abuse puts an enormous strain on any marriage and often leads to divorce.
Part of your property settlement agreement must include decisions about child custody and child support. An addicted tween or teen is still a child and is perhaps more vulnerable than most children in divorce. Selecting the appropriate parent becomes crucial for the child’s safety.
What if the child became addicted due to parental neglect? Neglect is only one factor a Virginia divorce judge will consider in determining child custody, but it is a whopper.
An immediate repercussion to charges of neglect leveled against you, the Dad, will be the designation of a Guardian ad litem (GAL) for your child. We have examined the GAL system in Virginia before and cannot promise your case will be handled with kid gloves.
Your child’s GAL will act in the best interests of the child. An addicted teen or tween will be examined thoroughly so the judge can determine which parent may be more responsible for neglect. That parent, clearly, will not win physical child custody.
If neglect is not an underlying cause of a tween’s or teen’s substance abuse problem, the child’s physical custody will go one of two ways:
- Sole physical custody to one parent
- Joint physical custody (shared custody) to both parents
If you are petitioning the court to have sole physical custody of your addicted child, you must demonstrate your commitment to serving the best interests of the child, as per Code of Virginia § 20-124.3.
If your daughter is in a residential treatment facility, for example, while you and your wife proceed with divorce, you may have very little evidence of your determination to provide a structured, disciplined home upon her release.
So what can the judge look at, to see if you are a better parent for your addicted child than her mother?
Everything you (and your wife) did to get help for your child will become evidence in your custody battle. Were you the initiator for treatment, or the reluctant follower? Have you faithfully visited her in her recovery facility? Have you been participating in therapy sessions?
Be Honest, Always
Though you may zealously want to be your addicted child’s custodian, you have to be honest with the court and yourself:
- Are you the best fit to protect the best interests of your addicted child?
- If your work schedule will interfere with medical, psychiatric or therapy appointments, are you the better choice for physical custody?
- If you were unable to lend material support during the marriage, how will you change to help your addicted child after divorce?
- If your child’s addiction repels or disgusts you, are you the more compassionate choice for custody?
Though the act may hurt you to the depths of your heart, if you cannot honestly bear the burden of caring for your addicted tween or teen, say so.
Ask your ex-wife to shoulder responsibility for physical custody. Then you truly do have the best interests of your child in your heart and head.
We’re Custody Attorneys for Fathers
We hope you will call The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, or contact us online, if you need the sort of experienced legal help only a seasoned Virginia family law firm can provide. Whatever your challenge, we are happy to help you get through it. Together, we can preserve and defend men’s rights, and protect Virginia’s children.