Navigating Child Custody and Parenting Time When Dealing with Substance Abuse in Arizona

Dealing with Substance Abuse while navigating Child Custody

Dealing with substance abuse can add additional stress to the already difficult process of co-parenting children. When one parent is struggling with substance use disorder, it can strain their relationship with their co-parent, make it difficult to bond with and care for their children, and complicate legal proceedings regarding child custody.

In fact, substance abuse can play a significant role in child custody cases. It is important to understand the impact of substance abuse on how you or your child’s other parent go about parenting your child. In addition, you must consider how the court makes decisions with regard to substance use, as these issues can have a profound impact on your family’s lives.

How Does Substance Abuse by a Parent Impact Child Custody in Arizona?

If you and your former partner are involved in a legal dispute regarding the custody of your children, you can expect that the court will work to make a decision that is in the best interest of the kids. While the court will take into account both parents’ points of view and factors like your income and your work schedules, ultimately, the safety and well-being of your children will come first.

If one of the parents has a history of substance abuse, then it is quite possible that the court will presume that it is not in your child’s best interest to be in the custody of that parent. Substance abuse can impair decision-making, so the court often does not trust those who abuse substances to make decisions for their child. You might also find that the court imposes limitations on the conditions of your child’s relationship with that parent, such as mandating supervised visitation to keep your child safe.

How Can Parental Substance Abuse Impact Children?

How does substance abuse impact your child custody case?

The Arizona court does not take substance abuse among parents lightly because it can have a significant impact on the children involved. For instance, all of the following are important factors to consider if your child is being raised by a parent with a substance abuse issue.

Emotional Toll

When children are around a parent who is struggling with substance abuse, it can have severe emotional impacts. For instance, your children might struggle with feelings of guilt, anxiety, stress, and mistrust regarding that parent’s condition and ability to care for them. An adult who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol might also become verbally abusive toward their child, causing trauma and emotional distress.


When a parent is taking care of a child while they are under the influence of mind-altering substances, they can put their child’s safety and even their life at risk. For instance, those who abuse drugs and alcohol may become violent toward their child, neglect their child, or make reckless decisions that put their child in harm’s way, such as driving while intoxicated.


In some cases, substance abuse can lead to a neglect of responsibilities, like providing basic care for the child. Parents who abuse substances might neglect to provide consistent nutritious meals for their children, attend to their health and hygiene needs, or neglect to stay on top of their school schedule. This can have negative impacts on the child’s physical and emotional well-being, academics, and behavior. In addition, if a parent is preoccupied with consuming substances or making money to fund their substance abuse, they might neglect to spend quality time with the child, resulting in social isolation and emotional distress.


Substance abuse does not always occur alongside child abuse, but parenting under the influence of drugs and alcohol can often cause a parent to be physically or verbally abusive. It can also cause a parent to become absent or distracted, thus leaving their children in a dangerous situation in the care of another adult. If you are concerned that your child is being abused in the care of your co-parent, you should contact a child custody lawyer as soon as possible to review your legal options.

Lack of Structure

Children of all ages can benefit from structure and routine. This can be difficult to create if you are sharing custody of your child with another parent, but maintaining healthy habits in both households, such as set mealtimes, bath times, and bedtimes, can help create consistency even if you are co-parenting. When one parent has a substance abuse disorder, you might not be able to trust them to stick to the routine and instead act in an inconsistent or unpredictable manner. It can be stressful worrying about what your child’s life is like in the care of that parent, so you might consider taking legal action if you are worried about parental substance abuse.

Can Recovery Efforts Impact Child Custody in Arizona?

While current or historic substance abuse can impact child custody rulings in Arizona, recovery efforts can also impact the court’s decisions. If your child’s other parent can provide credible evidence that they are making significant efforts toward substance abuse recovery, then the court might take those efforts into account when determining parenting time and visitation. Recovery efforts can include:

Completing a Rehabilitation Program

There are many programs out there suitable for different types of substance use disorder. If your child’s other parent enters and completes such a program and remains sober afterward, they may demonstrate to the court that they are committed to their recovery. For example, one Arizona mother who had lost custody of her two children got custody back after she attended a rehabilitation program.

Attending Substance Abuse Support Groups

In addition to rehabilitation programs, there are many support groups that exist to provide ongoing support to people who have a history of substance abuse. If your child’s substance-abusing parent can provide evidence that they regularly attend such groups, then they might also help the court understand they are making efforts to change.

Maintaining Sobriety

If your child’s other parent has a history of substance abuse but can prove that they are regularly maintaining sobriety with regular drug testing and other methods, then the court may take this into consideration when creating child custody orders. However, every case is different, and the sober time necessary to make this claim to the court can differ as well.

Attending Counseling

Many rehabilitation programs suggest continued counseling as aftercare. If your child’s other parent has attended a rehabilitation program targeting substance abuse and demonstrates a commitment to self-improvement through participating in therapy or counseling, the court may use this to determine the time they can spend with their child.

Protecting Children During a Divorce With a Substance-Abusing Parent

How to protect your child during a substance-abuse divorce

If you are co-parenting your children with a parent who abuses substances, you can benefit from drafting a parenting plan with drug and alcohol restrictions. This plan can help you ensure that you protect your child from any negative effects of the parent’s substance abuse. In many cases, parenting plans with substance restrictions can be approved by the court as a mandatory part of a child custody plan.

Such a plan could include elements like the following:

Prohibiting Substances

Your parenting plan should outline specific rules as to what substances are prohibited for your child’s substance-abusing parent while your child is in their care. This section should outline the types of drugs or alcohol that are restricted and specify which time periods.

Consequences for Violations

Your parenting plan should specify what penalties are in place for violating the terms of this plan. For example, penalties might include spending less time with your child, scheduling supervised visitation with your child, or not being able to see your child at all.

Regular Drug Testing

It is critical to have a plan in place to make sure that your child’s substance-abusing parent is avoiding drugs and alcohol while they are parenting your children. Your parenting plan can outline frequent drug testing and stipulate clear penalties for testing positive.

Mandatory Treatment

Your parenting plan might require your child’s substance-abusing parent to attend treatment or counseling programs in order to spend time with your children. This can help you ensure this parent is committed to recovery while they are in your child’s life.

How Can Parents Prove Substance Abuse In Custody Disputes?

If you believe that your child’s other parent is abusing substances and you need to prove this to the court so that it can inform child custody agreements, you have several options. When you consult with a family law attorney, they can review the facts of your case and give you personalized recommendations for how to prove substance abuse in your specific situation. All of the following methods are ways that you may be able to prove substance abuse.

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Drug Tests

If you want to prove that your child’s other parent is abusing substances, you may be able to prove this to the court by requiring regular drug testing, breathalyzer testing, or other types of tests. Asking the court to enforce mandatory testing will depend on your situation, but these can help you prove without doubt that your other parent regularly has an impaired mental state.

Testimony From Witnesses

If you have witnesses who can attest to your co-parent’s use of substances, you can work to highlight the extent of their substance abuse. For instance, testimony from your friends, family members, co-workers, or neighbors can all help support your claim.


If you have any documented evidence of substance abuse, such as photos, videos, texts, emails, or voice recordings, these can all help illustrate your point. Reports of reprimands for arriving at work while intoxicated, poor employment history, and more may also be of use.

Proof of Criminal History:

If your child’s other parent has a criminal record that involves substance abuse, such as a history of driving under the influence (DUI), then you can use this to convince the court that they are not fit to keep your child safe. Similarly, instances of disorderly conduct, public intoxication, open containers, physical or mental abuse, and more can also be critical proof of an issue.

How Can Your Child Custody Attorney Help You With Substance Abuse Issues?

Child Custody attorney

If you are dealing with a child custody battle and your child’s other parent is struggling with substance abuse issues, you should disclose all relevant information to your child custody attorney. Understanding the nature of substance abuse can help your attorney better understand how to craft a strategic case that helps you get the outcome you want for you and your child. Your child custody lawyer can help you with all of the following and more:

Providing Informed Counsel

If you need advice about your legal options or strategies regarding your case, your child custody attorney can help. After reviewing your situation, your attorney will draw on their experience to give you recommendations tailored to your needs. For instance, if you are worried about your child’s safety in the care of a substance-abusing co-parent, your family law attorney might suggest you present evidence of the abuse to the court to seek full custody.

Collect Evidence

If you are seeking evidence to present to the court about the substance abuse issues in your case, your attorney can help. The type of evidence that you will need will depend on your situation, but your lawyer might interview witnesses, consult with experts such as medical professionals, or work to obtain documentation of the substance abuse.

Negotiate On Your Behalf

Using evidence and a strategic argument, your family law attorney will try to work to negotiate a positive outcome on your behalf. For instance, if you are trying to modify a child custody order as a result of your co-parent’s substance abuse, your attorney can work to negotiate this change.

Go to Court

Your child custody case may not be subject to litigation, but it might, depending on the difficulties you encounter with negotiating co-parenting arrangements. If your case goes to court, your family law attorney will come prepared to advocate on your behalf and for the best interest of your child. Keep in mind that any parenting plan – even those agreed upon by both parties – must receive final approval from the judge.

The Valley Law Group Is Here To Support You

The Valley Law Group can offer you support

If you are navigating child custody issues as well as challenges with substance abuse, it is crucial to seek representation from a skilled child custody attorney. These are not easy situations to encounter, but an experienced legal professional can help advocate for the well-being of you and your children.

Our team of experienced family law attorneys here at The Valley Law Group can provide legal advice and support tailored to your family’s needs. We have a proven track record of success in a wide range of family law cases and will work diligently to fight for your child’s wellbeing. To learn more about how we can help you and your family, reach out to our office to schedule your consultation.

Resources :

  1. ABC15 Arizona. (2023, September 7). Mother gets full custody of kids back after substance abuse battle. ABC15. https://www.abc15.com/news/uplifting-arizona/mother-gets-full-custody-of-kids-back-after-substance-abuse-battle
  2. American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. (n.d.). Effects of parental substance abuse on children and families. https://www.aaets.org/traumatic-stress-library/effects-of-parental-substance-abuse-on-children-and-families

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