Will a history of alcohol misuse prevent you from spending time with your children?

Will a history of alcohol misuse prevent you from spending time with your children?

It is no secret that the UK has a renowned drinking culture.  In England there are an estimated 602,391 dependent drinkers. According to the charity Alcohol Change UK, only 18% are receiving treatment. (https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-statistics). Indeed, it was the re-opening of pubs, even in the early stages of pandemic, which signalled relief for many UK citizens and the feeling of getting back to “normal”. In this blog post, Melissa Jones discuses whether a history of alcohol misuse can prevent a parent from having contact with their child or children.

Research by Alcohol Change UK showed that almost three in ten drinkers found themselves drinking more in 2021 compared to 2020.  Further, around one in six drinkers felt concerned about the amount that they had been drinking since of removal of lockdown restrictions and 25% wanted to reduce the amount they will drink in 2022.

There are of course different levels of drinking.  The Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for men and women state:

  • To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis;
  • If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days.  If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risk of long-term illness and injury;
  • The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis;
  • If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days a week.

 

Of course, there is a world of difference between drinking alcohol and misusing alcohol and/or having an alcohol-use disorder.  Misuse of alcohol is defined by the NHS as regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

Alcohol misuse can affect parents if it takes precedence over their other commitments and responsibilities and starts to impact their family life and their relationship with their child(ren).

Child contact and the law

The law currently presumes that it is in the children’s best interests for each parent, even when they have separated, to continue to be involved in the lives of any and all of their children, unless such involvement may subject them to a risk of harm.

The misuse of alcohol often features in cases coming before the family court, where one parent seeks to prevent another from contact with the couple’s children because of concerns around the safety of the children.  That allegation may set in motion assessment (undertaken by the courts, CAFCASS or Social Services) of the risks that may be posed to the children involved.

As family law solicitors, we are all too familiar with such cases coming before family court and it is not unusual for an ex-partner to allege the other parent should have limited or no contact with the couple’s children because of previous drug and alcohol misuse and the risk such misuse poses to those children.

What measures can the court take?

The court has a number of ways it will establish and manage any potential risk:

  • it can order regular testing and monitoring of alcohol use, which might include hair strand testing, breathalysing pre and post child contact, the wearing of a SCRAM bracelet* or using a Portable Alcohol Monitor** (https://www.alphabiolabs.co.uk/legal-testing-services/legal-alcohol-testing/);
  • it can require an undertaking that the parent will not consume alcohol while having contact with their child(ren) and, in some cases, this can extend to include the period up to 24 hours before their contact with the child(ren);
  • it can require the parent’s attendance on specific therapeutic and remedial courses.

With parents that do experience difficulties with alcohol misuse from the perspective of the courts, there are ways of working through cases involving a parent experiencing difficulties with alcohol misuse so that children can maintain positive relationships with both parents.  Experiencing such difficulties does not have to be a barrier to having contact and a relationship with your child(ren).

If you are affected by any of the issues raised here, please get in touch today.  We are here to help you.

*Like a breathalyser for the ankle, the SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM CAM) bracelet provides 24/7 transdermal alcohol testing, automatically sampling the wearer’s perspiration every 30 minutes.

**This is a portable breath alcohol testing device with built in camera and GPS tracking, it can be set up for scheduled, random or on demand testing. This device allows for instant on demand monitoring.

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