Talk about dicey situations. You take your tiny tykes to their mother’s house for parenting time, and you definitely smell alcohol on her breath. Oh, she claims it is strong mouthwash, but then when you pick them up later, you glimpse the disheveled mess over her shoulder: plastic cups, empty liquor bottles. What can you do? Plenty!
Softball: First, Have a Chat
You cannot control other people, but you can control your reactions to their behavior. If your ex is partying or drinking when she should be parenting, it is probably a new development, not something that was evident during separation and divorce proceedings.
Very few of Virginia’s fine judges have any tolerance for drug or alcohol abuse from a parent. Visitation would probably not be an option for a known offender, and surely custody would have fallen only to you.
If the drinking and partying seems to be of recent origin, you have a chance to curtail the behavior in a calming way. Be assertive, not aggressive, but you must lay out your ex’s options:
- She needs to admit to the behavior and recognize the damage it is doing or will do to her own children
- Remind her of her obligation to uphold the best interests of the child and the various sections of your divorce decree
- Quietly insist that she cease the inappropriate behavior, or you will take your custody case to mediation or seek modifications to the divorce settlement through the courts
- Give her choices to seek online therapy, counseling, rehabilitation (during which you will take full custody of the children), or AA intervention
- See if she will agree to sobriety monitoring before every visit, using modern technology such as the SoberLink
- Remind her that she can submit a urine sample for an ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test
- Explain that her choice not to do any of those measures will force your hand to escalate, legally
If she chooses to continue the behavior, she is risking her own health, her children’s safety, and essentially asking for intervention by law enforcement and Child Protective Services (CPS). You are not threatening her with this; you are promising her you will protect your kids
While drinking and partying in her own home may be legal for your ex, if it in any way endangers the children, you have not only a right but an obligation to protect them.
Slow Pitch: Next, Talk with Your Attorney
Your next step, if reasoning and a civil chat with your kids’ mother did not work, is to talk with your family law attorney. Your attorney needs to know about your worries. Your attorney may be able to reach out to your ex’s attorney, to suggest that attorney talk with your ex and make clear that she is risking a lot with her choices to behave badly in the presence of her kids:
- Your attorney will (not might; will) petition the court for supervised visitation, dramatically reducing the freedom she had with her children and likely compelling her to appear at one of Virginia’s CPS offices for any future visit
- If needed, your attorney will file for modifications to the decree, to stop her child custody (if shared or joint custody has been established)
- Your attorney can also request an end to visitation (if alcohol abuse, inappropriate behavior, or both can be proven)
- As needed, a motion can be filed for termination of spousal support (the courts do not look kindly on unfit parents)
- As a last resort, your attorney reserves your right to petition Virginia’s courts for termination of parental rights
Virginia gives parents wide latitude in their personal behavior, but once the courts are already involved and a paper trail exists (as with separation agreements, divorce decrees, property settlement, child custody, and the like), the courts will step in again to protect Virginia’s kids.
Hardball: Gather Your Evidence
The American Bar Association recommends that clients and attorneys tread cautiously when working to prove alcohol or impairment in custody cases. Success in getting court-acceptable tests (EtG, Soberlink) is best gained by focusing on what is, in Virginia law, the “best interests of the child.”
While you might benefit from joining a group like Al-Anon (for anyone worried about someone else’s drinking problem), your primary task is to protect your children.
You may need to quietly write down what your children relate to you when describing their time with your ex.
You may need to call local law enforcement for a wellness check while your children are visiting the ex; officers finding an intoxicated parent will not abandon your children to her.
If you keep in mind that you must protect your children, even the hard task of gathering hard evidence becomes easier. Listen carefully to your family law attorney and follow your lawyer’s suggestions and cautions.
Whatever else you do in dealing with your divorce, contact The Firm For Men today to ensure your rights are protected. You may also reach us at our Virginia Beach office by telephoning (757) 383-9184. Your children deserve good parenting, even if you are a single Dad dealing with an unpredictable ex.