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  • Writer's pictureLaurie M. Wasserman

What to Do if Your Co-Parent is Suffering from a Substance Use Disorder (Or is Suspected of One)

Parents who suffer from substance use disorders could be a danger to themselves or the children in their custody. If you are concerned about your co-parent’s behavior regarding a substance use disorder, do not hesitate to get in contact with one of our family law attorneys to discuss strategies to protect your children.

Understanding the Signs of Substance Use Disorders

If you have observed the following symptoms, your co-parent might be struggling with a substance use disorder. This list is not exclusive, and it is important to note that many of these symptoms may be associated with other medical conditions that are not substance abuse disorders. Alternatively, some people are able to hide their substance abuse disorder.

Physical signs:

  • Noticeable deterioration of physical appearance

  • Lack of proper hygiene and grooming

  • Sudden fluctuations in weight

  • Lack of coordination

  • Slurred speech

  • Rancid odor on breath and body

Behavioral signs:

  • Neglecting personal responsibilities

  • Engaging in secretive and suspicious activities

  • Trouble with law enforcement (drunk driving, assault, accidents)

  • Sudden mood swings, increased aggression, paranoia, depression, and lethargy

  • Abandonment of hobbies and physical activity

  • Increased financial instability

If you suspect your co-parent is exhibiting symptoms of a substance use disorder, consider taking necessary actions to protect your children.

Change in Custody

Your options regarding custody of your children will be dependent on whether you have an existing custody order or agreement. If there is a custody order in place, and the other parent will not agree to additional protective measures for the children, then, depending on the circumstances, you may need a change in custody, a protective order, or intervention by Child Protective Services. In certain circumstances—sometimes on the same day as filing—you can seek emergency relief from the courts. These situations are very fact specific, and our family law attorneys can assist you to determine the best course of action.

How Can You Help Your Co-Parent with Substance Use Disorder?

When it comes to a parent with a substance use disorder, the priority is to ensure the children are safe. Once modifications have been made and orders are in place to keep your children safe, you can then attempt to address the substance use disorder with your co-parent.

Rather than confronting your co-parent with anger, consider whether to engage the help of medical professionals or provide resources to support their recovery and rehabilitation. Oftentimes, a custody order with specific benchmarks that encourage a healthy lifestyle while protecting the children gives hope to and helps motivate the parent with a substance use disorder. One of our family law attorneys can carefully craft provisions to meet the needs of the children, which may include, supervised visitation, required testing, and verification of treatment.

You may also want to consider enlisting a medical professional to help you and your children. Your children may have questions about the parent with the substance use disorder or the sudden change in the custody arrangement. An experienced professional can help you understand the best way to communicate with your children.

For Parents Struggling with Substance Abuse

If you are a parent struggling with a substance use disorder, the two most important things to do right now for your family are to 1) get yourself into treatment as soon as possible, and 2) make sure that your children are safe and properly cared for.

Seeking treatment for substance use communicates to your children, your co-parent, and a current partner that you are committed to doing the best for your children—even if it requires great courage and personal sacrifice.

Even if you disagree with your co-parent’s perception of your own health, and you believe that potential accusations of substance use are exaggerated or outright false, give yourself time and space to fully examine your current behavior and its effects on your children. You may find it helpful to start getting tested and attending support programs, if nothing else than to prove to your family that you are committed to a safe and healthy relationship with your children.

If you have questions about substance abuse and custody, please contact Laurie Wasserman at or 410-842-1070. The legal team at Wasserman Family Law is here to help guide and advocate for you.

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Disclaimer: Opinions and conclusions in these blog posts are solely those of the author unless otherwise indicated. The information contained in this blog is general in nature and is not offered and cannot be considered as legal advice for any particular situation. For legal advice, you should directly consult a lawyer to discuss the specific facts of your matter.

By reading this blog, you acknowledge that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the author.

Any links provided are for informational purposes only and by doing so, the author does not adopt or incorporate the contents. The author is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and they cannot be repurposed without permission.


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