Recently I have dealt with a number of cases concerning children where one parent has alleged that the other should not get to spend time with their child because the parent concerned is abusing either alcohol or drugs. There is a common misconception that where this can be proven the Court will say that the parent should not be allowed to see their child although this is not actually the case.

When making a decision concerning a child, the Court has to decide whether what it is ordering is in the best interests of that child. To determine what is in a child’s best interests the Court uses something called a welfare checklist. This checklist includes but is not limited to the following:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding).
  • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.
  • The likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances.
  • The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics of the child which the court considers relevant.
  • Any harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  • How capable each of the child’s parents and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question relevant is of meeting the child’s needs.
  • The range of powers available to the Court.

Initially, the Court is going to want proof that the parent concerned is misusing drink or drugs. The Court can order that a sample should be taken from that parent and a report will then be prepared by an expert and sent to the Court. Usually, the Court will order that the report should consider misuse of drugs or alcohol within the last 3 or 6 months. The longer back you go, the more expensive the cost of the report. For example, a report going back 3 months looking for use of cocaine can cost in the region of £400.00 to £500.00.

Even if substance misuse is proven, that is not an automatic bar to a parent seeing their child. The court can implement measures such as ordering that contact should only take place in a contact centre where it can be supervised, that the parent concerned should undergo regular drug testing and that there should be no overnight or unsupervised contact until the parent can prove that they are free from alcohol and or drugs.

There are many treatment programmes available to treat addiction and substance misuse these days and treatment can run alongside a court case concerning a child. The process can be long and hard but the rewards of seeing a parent come out the other side and rebuild their relationship with a child are considerable.