chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
July 28, 2020 Custody

Determining Alcohol Abuse in Child Custody Cases

From Family Law Section Corporate Sponsor Soberlink

This article is published in connection with the sponsorship agreement between Soberlink and the ABA.

Negotiating the terms of a child custody agreement can be difficult. Unfortunately, throwing alcohol abuse into the mix can further complicate negotiations. The most pressing concern in this situation is that a parent who abuses alcohol may not be able to provide a safe environment for a child. Such claims may weigh heavily on a custody agreement because these agreements aim primarily to protect and maintain the best interests of the child. This means that proving or disproving alcohol abuse claims can be equivalent to a parent either losing or retaining child custody privileges.

Proving or disproving an alcohol abuse claim is an important obstacle to overcome when determining custody arrangements.

Proving or disproving an alcohol abuse claim is an important obstacle to overcome when determining custody arrangements.

Credit: Bet_Noire/ iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

At the same time, a parent's alcohol abuse may already be a known factor when beginning child custody negotiations. In these situations, a parent with alcohol abuse may be able to retain their child custody privileges so long as their alcohol use is successfully managed. In so doing, a child may continue to safely spend time with a parent affected by alcohol abuse, satisfying both the child’s best interests and those of the affected parent. Here too, however, retaining child custody privileges rests upon proving that such safe interactions are possible when alcohol abuse is a known factor.

As these considerations suggest, claims of unmanaged alcohol abuse that threaten a child’s safety and wellbeing can have a significant impact on custody arrangements. This means that proving or disproving an alcohol abuse claim is an important obstacle to overcome when determining custody arrangements. 

How Can I Prove or Disprove Alcohol Abuse in Child Custody Cases?

Alcohol abuse can enter into child custody negotiations in a number of ways. In many cases, one parent will accuse the other parent of alcohol abuse and request sole custody of the child. In other situations, both parents may face alcohol abuse claims and risk losing custody of the child. Regardless of the particular case, alcohol abuse claims must be substantiated to a reasonable degree to hold weight. This means that simply making an accusation without evidence is not enough to settle alcohol abuse claims definitively.

Providing Evidence of Parental Alcohol Abuse

Some claims of alcohol abuse lend themselves more easily to concrete evidence than others. If the accused has a long or extreme history with alcohol abuse, it may be relatively easy to produce records that prove patterns of alcohol abuse. These patterns often indicate an increased risk of relapse or ongoing abusive behaviors. Such records may include documentation of court-mandated treatment programs, DUI arrests, or medical records that involve the excessive use of alcohol. If such documentation exists and is easily accessible, the accused parent may even admit to using alcohol in an abusive way, further corroborating a claim. 

At the same time, an accused parent may seek to temper the implications of such concrete documentation. For example, if the accused parent's history with excessive alcohol consumption occurred in the distant past, they may not be at risk for a relapse, nor is it likely that they currently pose a significant threat to their child's safety. In this situation, this parent may need to provide evidence to disprove the claim that they currently suffer from an abusive relationship with alcohol.

Proving or Disproving Spousal Alcohol Abuse

The EtG Test
When documentation of alcohol abuse does not exist, if this documentation appears dubious, or if an alcohol abuse claim is not very clear cut, individuals may need to corroborate their claims in other ways. In these situations, proving or disproving parental alcohol abuse may require subjecting the accused to an EtG test. EtG tests can detect the presence of ethanol (alcohol) in a subject's urine. The EtG test results can prove or disprove whether the accused has recently ingested alcohol within the past 80 days.

While the EtG test can help establish the accused's current drinking patterns, it may be difficult to convince them to initially take the test. In the U.S., the court system cannot require someone to take such a test based solely on a claim of alcohol abuse. Providing documentation of past incidents involving excessive alcohol use may prompt the court to mandate the EtG test, but this is not guaranteed.

At the same time, while the EtG may prove that traces of alcohol are in the accused's system, this fact alone does not necessarily indicate alcohol abuse. Responsible alcohol consumption is another possibility that the EtG test does not rule out.

Witness Testimony
Another common way to substantiate alcohol abuse claims involves bringing in a third party who has witnessed the accused's drinking patterns and finds them to be excessive and risky. While witness' testimony may corroborate alcohol abuse claims, they often remain hearsay unless the witness agrees to testify under oath or is subpoenaed.

Using Technology to Help Prove Alcohol Abuse in Custody Litigation

One of the better ways to help prove or disprove alcohol abuse claims in custody litigation is by using evidence collected by modern technology. Soberlink’s remote alcohol monitoring system avoids the pitfalls that traditional forms of alcohol monitoring fail to address. Unlike the EtG, Soberlink's wireless breathalyzers offer users a discrete and non-invasive way to measure sobriety. Equipped with facial recognition, tamper detection, and Advanced Reporting™, Soberlink devices allow users to submit scheduled tests with results sent in real-time. Unlike random testing, Soberlink supports scheduled tests allowing the focus to remain on the children rather than test frequency and submissions. Establishing a safe and calm environment for parents and kids help foster both peace of mind and child safety, making Soberlink the Gold Standard in remote monitoring technology.

Since the Soberlink alcohol testing device has remote capabilities, alcohol monitoring can be incorporated into any lifestyle and schedule, with no need for in-person commitments. Thus, drinking patterns can be determined quickly, conveniently, and reliably, helping to prove whether alcohol is being consumed. These findings can then be used to establish satisfactory custody arrangements.

Upholding the Best Interests of the Child
Soberlink believes that parents struggling with alcohol abuse deserve to maintain a strong relationship with their child when possible to do so safely. At the same time, Soberlink also recognizes that is often in the best interest of a child to retain a healthy relationship with both parents after a divorce. With this in mind, Soberlink's system offers a way for parents to manage their sobriety successfully, thus providing a child with a safe environment while also establishing necessary safeguards.

Protecting Parents from False Accusations
Soberlink's alcohol testing device can also be used to disprove false or misleading accusations of alcohol abuse. Because the device can be used remotely, its user can test as frequently as desired by all involved parties. Frequent testing can establish a pattern of sobriety, thus disproving claims of alcohol consumption during parenting time.

Successfully Managing Sobriety
Parents struggling with alcohol abuse can successfully manage their recovery with Soberlink as well. To do so, all involved parties can work together to determine whether to test for sobriety daily or only during parenting time. Further, Soberlink’s real-time results promote peace of mind, notifying concerned parties instantly when a child is with a parent who is drinking.

Court-Admissible Advanced Reporting™ 
As we saw with witness' testimony, not all evidence collected can be used in court to prove an alcohol abuse claim. However, Soberlink's Advanced Reporting™ option offers court-admissible evidence of testing compliance and easy-to-read reports indicating whether the user is displaying continued sobriety or excessive alcohol consumption. This admissibility is crucial for determining the merit of alcohol abuse accusations.

Start Your Section Membership Today!

Join the ABA's Section of Family Law and gain value and insight in your career, no matter your experience level. Signing up is easy and grants you member-only access to the latest news, information, and thinking.

Soberlink Logo

Soberlink Logo


Huntington Beach, CA

Founded in 2010, Soberlink supports accountability for sobriety through a comprehensive alcohol monitoring system. Combining a professional-grade breathalyzer with wireless connectivity, the portable design and state-of-the-art technology includes facial recognition, tamper detection, real-time results, and detailed reports. Soberlink documents sobriety with the highest level of reliability and accuracy to foster trust and peace of mind.