Non Substance-Free Environment

Florida Best Interests Factors: Substance-Free Environment

It's hardly surprising that Florida courts take into account substance abuse issues in child custody (parental responsibility and time-sharing) matters. Providing a substance-free environment is essential for a child's well-being and safety. If you, or your child's other parent, have a history of substance abuse, you should have the guidance of an experienced Florida family law attorney in your child custody matter.

"Substances" can include alcohol, prescription medications, or illegal drugs such as marijuana, heroin, or methamphetamine. Obviously, there is a difference between a parent who has a glass of wine in the evening after the kids are in bed and one who is operating a meth lab in the apartment they share with the children. Let's take a look at what Florida statutes and courts have said about substance use and abuse.

What is a Substance-Free Environment?

Florida Statutes section 61.13(3)(q) makes reference to "the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse." As we've discussed before, capacity translates to ability, and disposition translates to willingness.

Many people who don't think they have a substance abuse issue have a co-parent who thinks that they do. If your spouse or co-parent alleges that you have problems with substance abuse, particularly if there is evidence to back them up (like a conviction for DUI or possession of drugs), you will have an uphill battle getting a court to find in your favor on this factor.

A substance-free environment is one in which substances neither pose a direct danger to the child (such as in the meth lab example above), nor impair a parent's ability to provide the child with the best possible care. Use of drugs, especially illegal drugs, may also be seen by a court as setting a bad example for the child and call into question the parent's moral fitness. In order to prevail on this factor, a parent should avoid excessive drinking and avoid drug use altogether. But what if you have a history of substance abuse, even though you have put it behind you?

Dealing With a History of Substance Abuse

There is no question about it: having a history of substance abuse, especially if it involved criminal convictions, makes it much more difficult to be granted custody of your children. If you have substance abuse problems, or have had them in the past, you must be completely forthright with your family law attorney. He or she is in the best position to help you present your circumstances in the best light and demonstrate to the court that you are a capable, responsible parent who puts your child's best interests first.

If you have a history of substance abuse or addiction, but are now sober, your attorney can help you present this image to the court. Character witnesses will be of use to describe your current sobriety, responsibility, and dedication to your children. Professionals who have treated you, like therapists and doctors, can testify to your hard work and commitment to sobriety, as well as your ongoing plan to remain substance-free.

Be aware: it will take more than just a few positive words on your behalf from a neighbor or friend to overcome a history of substance abuse issues. One Florida Court of Appeals case affirmed an order modifying time-sharing from supervised to unsupervised based on numerous fact witnesses and two expert witnesses who testified that the father had not relapsed to addictive behaviors, that his supervised time-sharing had gone well, and that he had completed dozens of therapy sessions in an effort to deal with his addiction.

Family law attorneys often say, "Nothing you do can change the past; everything you do will change the future." If you have a history of substance abuse or addiction, you must acknowledge that it will probably have an impact on your Florida time-sharing matter. However, if you are committed to your children and to your recovery, there is hope for your custody situation. Improve your chances by working with an experienced Florida family law attorney who has dealt with cases like yours and can give you the best advocacy.

If you have questions about substance abuse and Florida time-sharing issues, please contact Miami family law attorney Antonio Jimenez.