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Pandemic-Linked Alcohol Abuse May Impact NJ Child Custody

COVID-19 mitigation strategies have included stay-at-home orders, school closures and shuttered businesses. It’s also coincided with a significant uptick in alcohol consumption. How might this affect child custody cases in New Jersey? A Freehold child custody lawyer takes a close look.

According to an analysis by the Journal of the American Medical Association, there has been a 54 percent increase in alcohol sales for home consumption during the pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that alcohol use during the pandemic might exacerbate other health concerns and certain risk-taking behaviors. On average during the pandemic, JAMA found 3 in 4 adults were consuming alcohol 1 day more per month on average than they did prior to the pandemic. There was a significant increase in days of heavy drinking for women, especially. Those in alcohol recovery programs, like AA meetings, were additionally struggling due to losing those resources – which even temporarily, can have major consequences.

Many of those are parents, now responsible for supervising and assisting their kids throughout school days, which now take place at home – sometimes on top of their own jobs. While only 7 percent of people had access to remote work prior to the pandemic, that number may now be as high as 59 percent.

“No wonder they need a drink!” some may sympathize.

But keep in mind: Consuming alcohol when you’ve assumed responsibility to caring for your children could be considered a form of child endangerment. Families that are intact may be better equipped to deal with an uptick in daily alcohol consumption because one parent can take over for the other if necessary. But where families are separated or divorced, it can be more difficult.

This could become highly relevant in a child custody dispute.

How Can I Prove/Disprove Alcohol Abuse in New Jersey Child Custody Cases?

Alcohol abuse – or any substance abuse – can become an integral part of discussions in child custody cases. That’s because the No. 1 consideration in any custody case is the well-being of the child. A parent who is routinely impaired while caring for their children can pose a threat to that child’s safety. One parent may accuse the other of abusing alcohol to request sole custody. Those facing allegations of substance abuse may risk losing child custody.

As our Freehold child custody attorneys can explain, alcohol abuse claims need to be substantiated to a reasonable degree to hold weight in court. Simply making an accusation without any evidence won’t be enough.

If there is an extreme history or a long pattern of alcohol abuse, it could be relatively easy. Some examples of evidence include DUI arrests (particularly if children were in the vehicle), court-mandated treatment programs, medical records, video or photographic evidence or electronic communications.

Conversely, evidence of alcohol abuse in the distant past may not be as relevant, as it is not likely to indicate a risk of relapse or a safety risk to the child.

How Do I Know if My Ex Has a Drinking Problem?

The DSM V defines alcohol use disorder as a pattern of problematic alcohol use that leads to significant impairment or distress, with a combination of at least two of 12 listed behaviors, which include things like a persistent but unsuccessful desire to cut down on alcohol, continued use despite recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused/exacerbated by the effects of alcohol and failure to fulfill major role obligations at home, work or school.

Parents who drive recklessly while drunk, pass out at home and leave children unattended or are physically/emotionally abusive to children while under the influence of alcohol/during hangovers can be called out in child custody court.

It’s possible that a slight increase in alcohol consumption during this stressful pandemic isn’t going to have any long-term repercussions for anyone. But if there is a pattern of alcohol abuse, that can lead to real dangers for children, and we expect to see an increase in New Jersey child custody disputes as a result.

Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.

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