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January 23, 2024 Feature

Navigating Substance Abuse in Family Law: A Compassionate Approach to Ensuring Child Safety

Chris Beck

In today’s society, substance abuse has become a ubiquitous issue touching many lives, and family law professionals often find themselves navigating its complexities. Although alcohol’s prominence in social contexts might lead some to overlook its potential for misuse, it remains the most abused substance in the United States. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health highlighted that approximately 14.5 million people suffered from Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States (2019). Furthermore, the Alcohol Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has pointed out that around 1 in 10 children reside with a parent who has substance abuse issues, whether related to alcohol, drugs, or both.

For family law attorneys, these cases involving drugs and alcohol aren’t just about legal responsibilities; they are about the moral imperative to protect vulnerable children. The field needs to continually adapt and use diverse tools, such as alcohol and drug monitoring, to ensure child safety, assist in informed custody decisions, and aid in the rehabilitation of parents.

Taking a compassionate approach to parents grappling with substance abuse is crucial. Viewing it not as a moral lapse but as a health challenge needing empathy, support, and rehabilitation is essential. In this endeavor, tools like alcohol and drug monitoring play an indispensable role.

Unpacking Alcohol Monitoring in Family Law

Substance testing and monitoring are becoming increasingly vital in addressing both alcohol and drug abuse in family law. Its purposes are twofold: first, it ensures the safety and well-being of children by offering timely, dependable data on a parent’s sobriety. Second, it allows parents to show evidence of their journey towards recovery and rehabilitation. For alcohol specifically, successful monitoring can be difficult. While traditional testing methods like urine, blood, nail, and PeTH blood testing offer glimpses into recent alcohol use, they may not always offer the immediacy required to address child safety concerns. Modern alcohol monitoring systems, including Soberlink, SCRAM, and Ignition Interlock bring a multifaceted approach to substance monitoring.

The introduction of any of these tools must be done with empathy and understanding. Each comes with its benefits and should be used in a way that respects the dignity of the parent while ensuring the safety and well-being of the child. They should be used not as punitive measures, but as supportive tools that encourage recovery and enable better parenting.

Recommended Features in Alcohol Monitoring

The AUD Bench Card, created by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, offers valuable recommendations for alcohol monitoring in Family Law. It highlights the importance of features such as facial recognition, tamper detection, real-time results, and Advanced Reporting. These characteristics ensure the integrity of the monitoring process and provide accurate, timely data that can directly influence legal decisions. Soberlink, among all the monitoring systems available today, is the only one that incorporates all the features recommended by the Bench Card. The system’s facial recognition eliminates the need for a third-party identity verifier, while its tamper detection ensures that the parent cannot beat the system. Its real-time results offer immediate insight into a parent’s sobriety, enabling swift action if necessary.

However, this does not dismiss the efficacy of other monitoring systems like SCRAM and Ignition Interlock. The SCRAM ankle bracelet is excellent for constant monitoring, and while the results may take longer to arrive and may feel punitive, it provides a continuous string of data that may be relevant in certain high-risk or criminal cases. The Ignition Interlock system ensures that a parent cannot drive if they are intoxicated, directly protecting the child’s safety only during driving if that is the only concern. Ultimately, the choice of a monitoring system should align with a compassionate approach to handling these cases. A system that comprehensive features that uphold the dignity of the parent and ensure the safety of the child can be an invaluable tool in this pursuit.

Drug Testing in Family Law

Beyond alcohol, other types of drug abuse are a significant concern in family law. Though less prevalent, various drugs, from opiates to amphetamines and benzodiazepines can greatly impair a parent’s ability to care for their child effectively. Drug testing can play a pivotal role in determining the safety of a child, especially when custody and visitation rights are in contention.

For family law professionals, it’s crucial to be versed in the various drug testing methods available and to understand their nuances. For instance, urine tests can detect recent drug use, whereas hair tests can provide insights into a person’s drug history over several months. Saliva tests offer a middle ground, capturing substance use over a few days. Each testing method has its strengths and limitations in terms of detection windows and the substances they can detect.

Having a trusted source for both alcohol and drug testing is highly beneficial for Family Law professionals looking to streamline their case, especially when both drugs and alcohol are a concern. Soberlink, for example, has expanded its services to offer lab-based drug tests, encompassing a range of options from urine tests to hair drug tests. This expansion is a testament to the evolving needs of family law cases and the imperative to address the broader scope of substance abuse. Furthermore, the accuracy and reliability of the testing lab are paramount. Reputable labs like LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics have established themselves as leaders in the industry, providing comprehensive panels that screen for a wide range of substances. Additionally, the 5-panel and 10-panel tests are common choices in family law cases, screening for the most commonly abused drugs.

Family law professionals should also be aware of the potential for false positives and the importance of confirmatory tests. For example, the involvement of a Medical Review Officer (MRO) can be paramount. The MRO’s meticulous review of drug test results ensures accuracy and fairness, eliminating potential biases or misunderstandings related to prescription medications. This precision is crucial in family court settings, where decisions about child custody, visitation rights, and the overall welfare of the child hinge on dependable evidence. An MRO-backed test ensures that conclusions are based on clear, objective data, upholding the integrity of family law proceedings. The labs mentioned above offer this service and Soberlink, also mentioned above, has this service built in.

Being informed about these options and nuances allows legal professionals to make more informed decisions, ensuring the child’s safety remains the paramount concern while also respecting the rights and rehabilitation efforts of the parents involved.

The Dynamics of Voluntary vs. Court-Ordered Substance Monitoring

Substance monitoring in family law can be both court-ordered or voluntary. While court-ordered monitoring supplies essential data for contentious custody cases, voluntary monitoring serves as a proactive testament to a parent’s commitment to sobriety.

Parents who volunteer for monitoring proactively demonstrate their dedication to a substance-free lifestyle, which can be invaluable in disputes where false accusations of substance abuse arise. Both approaches to monitoring provide courts with vital evidence of a parent’s commitment to ensuring a safe, nurturing environment for their child.

Regardless of how it’s initiated, monitoring should be perceived not as punitive but as an opportunity for growth. It’s a conduit for parents to reaffirm their dedication to recovery, better their parenting, and guarantee their children’s safety.

A Balanced and Empathetic Approach

The challenge of addressing substance abuse in family law remains daunting. However, as we charter these intricate waters, the criticality of a compassionate approach backed by reliable monitoring tools becomes ever clearer. Systems like Soberlink, SCRAM, and Ignition Interlock and lab drug testing are paramount allies.

These testing and monitoring solutions ensure children’s safety, nurture healthier parent-child relationships, and support parents on their path to recovery. By leveraging these tools, family law professionals can approach substance abuse not as a moral failing, but as a health concern necessitating understanding, support, and actionable solutions. Only a balanced and empathetic approach can we genuinely impact parents grappling with substance abuse and shield the young, innocent lives of their children who are caught in the crossfire.

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Chris Beck

Soberlink Healthcare, LLC

Chris Beck is vice president of Business Development Family Law for Soberlink Healthcare, LLC in Huntington Beach, California. He works with family law judges, attorneys, and health professionals around the country, informing and educating them about Soberlink’s approach to alcohol monitoring for child custody cases.