Wash your hands. Eat your vegetables. Wear your bike helmet. Mothers direct much of their energy toward keeping their children safe and healthy. That’s why moms have such a hard time leaving their children in the care of someone else. It even can be hard for a mother to trust the other parent. And if the other parent has a problem with alcohol, a mother’s instincts are likely to be in full protective mode.
If your ex struggles with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), you may have wrestled with some or all of these questions: Can I legally cut off or restrict contact between my child and the father? If I can do so, should I? Is there a way to maintain contact but keep my children safe? What part can my children play in ensuring their own safety?
Every case is different, but generally, research shows that children benefit from contact with both parents, as long as they are emotionally stable and the two of them aren’t waging war with one other. Also, you may compromise your own legal position if you deny your ex court-ordered parenting time. But when AUD enters the picture, more serious concerns make an appearance, too.
Practical and Legal Remedies For Protecting Your Children From an Alcoholic Ex
Alcohol Use Disorder and Parenting Time
Generally speaking, alcohol use does not render a parent unworthy of parenting time. Courts usually consider drinking an issue only if there is proof, usually in the form of arrests or other legal records, that the parent drinks to excess. Even then, parents may be allowed contact with children, especially if they are enrolled in a treatment program.
A mother in the process of getting a divorce can try for restricted or supervised parenting time for the parent struggling with alcoholism. If the decree has already been decided, however, getting it altered can be a time-consuming process.
The practical outcome, in many cases, is that the mother is responsible for determining whether the father is using alcohol before or during his parenting time and for ascertaining whether his alcohol use affects his ability to care for his children.
It goes without saying that mothers can also struggle with alcoholism, but this article is specifically targeted toward moms whose ex-husbands have AUD.
Make Your Stance Known
Communication is still important even when your spouse becomes your ex-spouse. Your ex should not feel blindsided by any actions that you might feel are necessary. If your divorce decree is final and does not address the issue of your ex’s alcohol use, you need to let him know ahead of time how you will handle any alcohol-related crises that might occur.
It’s optimal if you and your ex can come up with such a plan together, but realistically that is not going to occur in most cases. If your ex-husband is in denial about his alcohol use, he may insist that he would never endanger his children. No matter what he says, you should make it clear that being intoxicated during his parenting time will not be tolerated.
If you are dealing with an ex-spouse whose abuse of alcohol is intractable, you may decide that gaining sole custody is your only workable solution. In order to have a chance of getting sole custody, you will have to present evidence that the father’s alcohol abuse puts his children in danger and that being in his care is not in the children’s best interests.
Parental rights are strong. Gathering and presenting evidence against an ex-husband is an uncomfortable role for many women, but without strong evidence, you have little chance of getting sole custody. You can hire a private investigator, but your input and testimony will probably be needed as well.
If what you are seeking is a modification of your original child custody decree, you will need to present evidence of a material change in circumstances. If your ex’s alcohol use was in evidence during the original divorce case, you will need to show evidence that his use has increased and that it is not in the best interests of your children for him to have physical custody at any time.
Some states have laws regulating how soon and how often you can request a modification of your court order. In order to file a request for modification outside of that time frame, you will need to show that your children are in physical danger or will suffer significant mental or emotional distress. The exact requirements and wording for requesting modifications vary from state to state.
A Practical Solution
A remote alcohol monitoring system, such as Soberlink, is another possible solution for you and your ex. This system combines a breathalyzer with wireless connectivity. The portable design and technology include facial recognition, tamper detection and real-time reporting. Soberlink proves sobriety with reliability to foster trust and peace of mind. The reliability of alcohol monitoring systems has been upheld in court.
Alcohol monitoring systems are quick to put into place and can reassure you about your ex’s sobriety when it matters most. Although the courts may mandate testing, you and your ex-husband could also work out an agreement requiring that he submit a test prior to and/or during parenting time. Using such a system could greatly increase your peace of mind while your children are out of your care.
The Role of Your Children
Most experts agree that children should not be put in the position of reporting to one parent about the other parent’s behavior. Still, once your children reach a certain age, they can be participants in ensuring their own safety. Here are some steps to consider:
- Teach your child never to get in a vehicle with someone who has been drinking.
- Give your children basic cell phones as soon as practical and be sure they know how to use them.
- Be sure that your child knows your full name and physical address. Teach your children your phone number, even though it is stored on their phones. They may need to call from a different phone.
- Designate one family member or friend as your first backup, to be called if a child cannot reach you.
- Talk to your children about how to find “safe strangers” if they ever need help. Police officers and firefighters are the most obvious examples.
- Occasionally role-play what they should do if they need help.
- Consider counseling for children who seem troubled or who exhibit any of these 11 signs.
Sharing your children with an ex with AUD is never easy, even when things are going well. You want your children to have the security of two parents who love them, but you may have trouble forgiving their other parent. You really need time away from your children, but you may find it hard to relax when they are gone. You feel that you should talk to your children about Alcohol Abuse, but you don’t want to portray their father as a bad parent.
There are no easy fixes for your situation, but it’s important to take care of yourself and get help and advice if you need it. Some people find direction and comfort in Al-Anon, an organization for friends and families of alcoholics that is based upon the 12-step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Some hospitals, clinics, and churches also offer support groups for those affected by Alcohol Use Disorder. If you are uncomfortable with a group approach, consider one-on-one sessions with a spiritual leader or therapist.
While you are trying to work with your ex to keep him in your kids’ lives, don’t be naive. If you happen across any evidence that your ex-husband’s alcohol abuse is out of control, document it. Keep a record if he misses scheduled visits, shows up late, does not respond to phone calls or texts or otherwise fails to act in a responsible manner. This information could be helpful if you have to take legal steps to protect your children.
If you need legal advice, find an attorney. If you can’t afford a lawyer, use this list of resources for free legal help. If you or your children need counseling or therapy, this advice from Mental Health America may be useful.