Custody: Where Should the Children of an Addict Be?

Although family and friends find it frustrating, there are very few times when you can legally force someone to enter rehab (Read Can I Force a Loved One Into Treatment?); people may not have the right to break the law, but they do, unfortunately, have the legal right to make bad decisions.  Likewise, the adult family members and friends of alcoholics and addicts are equally free to accept the situation or walk away if the addict refuses help (Read Codependency: Are You Addicted to Addiction? and Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes: Enabling an Addict).  But the situation becomes much more tricky when minors are involved. 

I am a relative. Should I be concerned about the children?

An addict has one priority: the addictive substance or behavior.  Even if they love their children, they will always choose their addiction first.  Clearly, the potential implications of this are numerous and negative.  If you suspect or know that the child or children are being physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused, you absolutely should speak up.  In many states, teachers, medical professionals, and therapists, for example, are legally required to report instances of child abuse.  But even if the addict is not actively doing or saying anything to harm their children, the child is likely still being deeply affected by watching their parent struggle with addiction (Read The Addict-Parent: What It Means for Child Development).  You should also be concerned if you suspect that the addict is neglecting their children; this includes physical neglect (not encouraging proper hygiene, etc.), emotional neglect (not spending time with the children in positive ways or being drunk or high when they do spend time with them), and even financial neglect (putting money that should be used for nutritious food, clothing, and other needs towards drugs or alcohol).

Can I get custody of a child if I am a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other relative?

Possibly.  Although laws vary by state, as a general rule, courts seek to find a situation that is best for the child.  In most circumstances, the law falls on the side of keeping children with their biological parents unless the safety or well-being of the children is jeopardized by staying with the parent.  But, again, addiction is a difficult gray area; you would not, for example, remove a child from a home in which the mother was being treated for breast cancer if the environment was otherwise positive.  And, from a medical perspective, addiction is considered a disease just like cancer.  But unlike physical ailments,  some mental health conditions—like addiction—can also negatively impact a person’s behavior (Read Dual Diagnosis: When Addiction and Mental Health Collide).  If for no other reason than to not regret it later, it may be worthwhile to consider speaking with a family law attorney if you are concerned. Try to stay involved in the lives of the children as much as the addict will let you to be able to continuously monitor what’s going on. Also, be conscious of the toll that the situation is taking on you, and consider getting help for yourself so that you can be strong for the children (Read Talk It Out: Is Therapy Right for You?).

I want to help the addict too.  What can I do?

In many cases, an intervention is an addict’s best chance at being persuaded to accept help (Read Intervention FAQ).  Contact eDrugRehab today to learn more about our intervention and rehab-placement services.     

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