How Should Parenting Time With An Alcoholic Parent Look?
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By Cathy Meyer, Founding Editor - February 29, 2016


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Sober parents nor children should have to be made responsible for what happens during the parenting time awarded to an active alcoholic. Alcoholism impacts families in major negative ways. Divorce due to alcoholism should mean parents and children are protected from further damage.

In a DivorcedMoms article, a recent divorcee wrote about her feelings about her children visiting their alcoholic father. “For 8 months, I have dreaded the day I'd have to allow my sons to do an overnight visit with their dad. I've avoided it at all costs. I've hidden from this event like a scared girl on a horror flick running from a man with a chainsaw. But just like what inevitably happens in those horror movies, I knew eventually, this scary day would find me.”

I am familiar with this mother’s story. It is her responsibility, after years of an enabling relationship with an alcoholic to now, post-divorce, monitor his sobriety during his parenting time. Not only does she have to monitor his abuse of alcohol when the children are in his care, but she also has to be ready and at hand to deal with any crisis that may occur when the children are in their father’s custody.

Divorcing her alcoholic husband has meant little change for her when it comes to parenting the children with him. In fact, divorce has added a new level of stress to her life because she is not with her children at all times and the courts have allowed someone who abuses alcohol the right to visitation without supervision.

How Should Parenting Time Look For An Alcohol Parent?

In my opinion, it is exceptionally unfair to require the sober parent to monitor the alcohol use of the addicted parent. Single parents have enough on their plate without adding the incredible stress of worrying about the safety of their children when in the custody of a parent who is an active alcoholic.

The courts do little the relieve the stress of the sober parent by only ordering the alcoholic parent not drink when the children are in their custody. I grew up with an alcoholic parent; I know from experience that no court order would have stopped him from drinking if it was a drink he felt he needed.

I remember the fear I felt when my father was drunk but, I was lucky enough to have my mother’s presence at all times since they never divorced. I put myself in the shoes of a child who is in the custody of a father who defies a court order and becomes drunk, and I shudder.

Sober parents nor children should have to be made responsible for what happens during the parenting time awarded to an active alcoholic. Alcoholism impacts families in major negative ways. Divorce due to alcoholism should mean parents and children are protected from further damage.

Until the family court begins to understand the impact on children of an active alcoholic and denies visitation, divorce isn’t a solution for a marriage riddled by the chaos of alcoholism.

No Visitation For Active Alcoholics?

That is what parenting time should look like for an active alcoholic parent. No parenting time until that parent commits to becoming sober. Or, only supervised parenting time until it is proven to the court that the parent is a “recovering” alcoholic.

Requiring an alcoholic parent to choose between alcohol and their children not only gives the alcoholic extreme motivation to get sober, it also relieves the sober parent of having to take on the worry and concern of monitoring the parent’s alcohol consumption when the children are in their custody. And, most importantly a recovering alcoholic parent is less likely to do life-long damage to their children.

It’s a win/win situation for sober mothers and their children. And for the alcoholic parent if they choose their children over alcohol consumption.

What Might Happen If The Alcoholic Parent Is Ordered To Choose?

The reality is, not every alcoholic isn’t going to choose sobriety and parenting time with their children. That is the reality of the disease, for some sobriety isn’t something that can be faced. I doubt my own father would have committed to sobriety for the sake of his relationship with my sister and I. Unfortunately, I’ll never know because he was never given the opportunity to make that choice.

If the family court started ordering alcoholic parents to choose between alcohol and their children, one of three things would happen.

1. The alcoholic parent will continue to drink and limit their ability of parenting on a regular basis, their children.

2. The alcoholic parent chooses their children and goes into a recovery program.

3. The alcoholic parent tries to get sober but relapses, in which case the sober parent has the court to fall back on to help solve the problem and isn’t left on her own to monitor the other parents drinking and worry about the safety of her children.

I’m not in favor of limiting any parent’s time with their children. I firmly believe that all children deserve two, loving, caring parents on an equal basis. With an active alcoholic that isn’t what children are getting and allowing continued influence over the children by an alcoholic is not what is in the “children’s best interest.”

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