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What if My Ex Shows Up Drunk to Child Custody Pickup?

woman pointing shouting at child with man in background

Co-parenting with someone who is an addict or struggles with substance abuse can be incredibly challenging. However, you need to tread lightly when it comes to denying child visitation on these grounds.

On the one hand, your foremost concern is the physical safety and emotional well-being of your child. On the other hand, you do need to be mindful of the possibility that defying the court’s visitation schedule could be grounds for being held in contempt. If your child’s safety is at risk, you may need to make a split-second decision to refuse the visit; but you’ll need to immediately contact a lawyer to determine what steps you should take to protect yourself and your child.

If at all possible (and you feel safe doing so), we generally advise trying to calmly reason with your ex to get them to agree to a later pickup or a different day. Consider recording the interaction so you’ll have some supporting evidence to later show the court why you acted as you did. Be mindful of all the details that led you to suspect intoxication (i.e., alcohol on the breath, slurred words, unsteady balance or gait, empty bottles or paraphernalia in the vehicle, etc.). Note any witnesses who might support your case too.

If logical reasoning seems unlikely to work, try reaching out to your New Jersey child custody attorney for help deciding what to do next. It’s best in these situations to work with a lawyer already familiar with your case. Plus, if it’s after hours, chances are you have that attorney’s on-call phone number. Alternatively, there are legal services that offer 24/7 hotlines for situations like this. An attorney may be able to help you file an Emergent Hearing on child custody matters impacting the child’s safety.

Depending on the circumstances, you might also consider reaching out to the New Jersey Department of Children and Family Services. Such intervention may be wise if your child is already in your ex’s care, and you believe that they areat risk for neglect in your ex’s care.

If you or your child is at immediate risk of danger (i.e., domestic violence, drunk driving, unsafe conditions in the home, etc.), then you should call the police.

You might take this step even absent an emergency if your ex is insisting on taking the child, but you’re highly concerned for your child’s well-being. Explain to your ex that you can’t allow your child to go with them, and they basically have two ways to enforce the existing agreement: File a motion to enforce or contact the police. The latter will be faster, and if they aren’t too impaired to care for the child, the police would have no reason to say otherwise. If you take this route, try to minimize any potential trauma to your child. Do your best to remain calm, speak in even tones, and refrain from physical altercations, loud accusations, or foul language/gestures.

Police officers are trained to gauge intoxication levels. If they determine the other parent is impaired, their report will provide key evidence to justify your deviation from the court’s original custody/parenting time schedule. However, if they don’t, be prepared to let your child go with their other parent. Also know that involving the police when it isn’t necessary could reflect poorly on you in later court actions. It’s important before making that call to carefully consider their apparent degree of intoxication, the age/vulnerability of your child, and whether there will be driving involved.

Addressing Addiction in Your Child Custody Agreement

If you know your child’s other parent struggles with addiction before your child custody arrangement is set, you can work with your New Jersey child custody lawyer to address it in the original order.

If it’s an active addiction, your attorney can help you request:

  • Limited and/or supervised parenting time.
  • Primary custody for the sober/non-addict parent.
  • Monitoring of the addicted parent’s sobriety during visitation.
  • A clear plan of action if the parent does not abide by the terms.
  • Requirement that the other parent undergo drug/alcohol treatment to retain parenting time.

If the co-parent has past addiction issues, you may want to have provisions in the parenting time agreement to address it - just in case it ever suddenly becomes an issue again. Such measures you might consider include:

  • Requirements for continued counseling, treatment, group meetings, testing, etc.
  • A clear plan of action if the parent does not remain sober.

Remember that it’s not the Family Court’s role to punish parents for an addiction - active or otherwise. The goal here is to further the best interests of the child. That usually involves maintaining a relationship with both parents - so long as that can be done in a way that is safe and nurturing for the child.

If you discover the addiction after the custody agreement is finalized, you can seek a modification of that agreement. Modification requires a material change in circumstances - and an addiction that impacts the child’s safety would certainly qualify.

Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.

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