Posted on October 31, 2018

Parenting Time And The Alcoholic Parent

Alcoholic parents make divorce and parenting time extremely challenging.

30% of American adults don’t drink at all.  Another 30% have less than one drink a week.  The top 10% of drinking Americans drink an average of 73.85 drinks a week.

The second decile of drinkers (20% to 10%) drink 15.3 drinks a week which can be a lot but probably does not affect their judgment.

Our society, generally, cannot distinguish between the problem drinker and the casual drinker. So, how does a parent or a court discern if one parent is a big drinker (with all the problems that come with it) or a casual drinker?

A few years ago, a judge would simply shrug and say, “If there’s not a DUI or something on his or her record, I’m not going to restrict visitation because of alcohol.” Or, a judge would simply order, “No drinking during parenting time.” A parent could be ordered into alcoholism treatment or ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a few months.

Sooner or later, final papers would be entered between the parents which, at most, would mandate that neither parent drink while exercising their visitation.

Without regular breathalyzer tests it was impossible to properly balance the danger to the children from the parents drinking with the need of the child and the parent to see each other.

The courts will always award parents visitation time despite the parent’s personal failings so long as the child is not in danger, “In allocating parenting time, the court shall not consider conduct of a parent that does not affect that parent’s relationship to the child.” 750 ILCS 5/602.7(c)

Should a parent drink while with the child, it will be a problem.

“After a hearing, if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent engaged in any conduct that seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development, the court shall enter orders as necessary to protect the child. Such orders may include, but are not limited to, orders for one or more of the following:

(1) a reduction, elimination, or other adjustment of the parent’s decision-making responsibilities or parenting time, or both decision-making responsibilities and parenting time;

(2) supervision, including ordering the Department of Children and Family Services to exercise continuing supervision under Section 5 of the Children and Family Services Act;

(4) restraining a parent’s communication with or proximity to the other parent or the child;

(5) requiring a parent to abstain from possessing or consuming alcohol or non-prescribed drugs while exercising parenting time with the child and within a specified period immediately preceding the exercise of parenting time;

(6) restricting the presence of specific persons while a parent is exercising parenting time with the child;

(8) requiring a parent to complete a treatment program for perpetrators of abuse, for drug or alcohol abuse, or for other behavior that is the basis for restricting parental responsibilities under this Section; and

(9) any other constraints or conditions that the court deems necessary to provide for the child’s safety or welfare.” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)

The “treatment program” required by 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)(8) invariably involves a regular breathalyzer or other drug test.


Breathalyzer and wireless technology have finally solved this problem with the Soberlink alcohol monitoring program.

Soberlink provides the alleged problem drinker with a breathalyzer that can immediately upload the test results to a server where the other parent, the lawyers and the court can see the test results.

What prevents the alleged problem drinker from just having a sober friend blow into the device? Here’s where Soberlink provides added value: the device takes a picture of you while you do the test and uploads that picture to the server along with the test results.

This technology can tell if a person drinks, when and even how much.

The court order will govern the testing. The court order is forwarded to Soberlink to set up a schedule of tests with the alleged problem drinker.

Constant testing multiple times per day is not required. The point of the Soberlink technology is to see if the person has had anything to drink. It will detect blood alcohol levels from the night before. Soberlink can detect if the person had a drink an hour ago or even the previous night. The point of the technology is to find out if the alleged problem drinker is drunk, not whether they had a solitary drink at lunch.

A test in the evening is usually sufficient.

After a few months of clean tests, the alleged problem drinker will have essentially proved themselves reliably sober and the testing can stop.

If the parent accusing the other parent of being a problem drinker has no concrete basis to demand Soberlink tests, the accusing parent will likely be made to pay for the tests.

If, however, the alleged problem drinker has a long history of problem drinking, the alleged problem drinker may be ordered to pay for some or all of the costs associated with Soberlink.

Soberlink may be requested by asking an Illinois divorce or parentage court “constraints or conditions that the court deems necessary to provide for the child’s safety and welfare.” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)(9).

What About Other Drugs?

The courts usually have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to other drugs. The court will issue an order requiring mandatory testing and the testing time will not be known in advance. The tester will call the parent with the alleged drug problem at a random time on a random day and demand that they take a urine and hair follicle test within a two-hour period. This prevents people from taking a special drink to mask their drug use.

Even if an alleged drug user could mask their urine test, the hair follicle test would still reveal the drug use.

Do not even think about showing up to your drug test or to court with a shaved head (this has happened to me).  The drug test proctor and the judge will know what you’re doing. If you need help, ask for help.

What About Marijuana?

As society’s attitudes change regarding marijuana, so will judge’s attitudes toward allowing visitation to an occasional or regular marijuana user, especially, when a doctor prescribes the marijuana.

I am sure a technology will be developed shortly that will be able to confirm whether someone is high or not. Until then, I would recommend curtailing your use of marijuana if you want to enjoy time with your children.

Addiction and Parenting Time 

It’s important to note that while Soberlink and other drug testing technology can help assure a child’s safety, the addiction issue will always remain with the addicted parent. Addiction issues are so transcendent that children often attend meetings of their own, just like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings so that they, as children of people with an addiction, can come to terms with their parents’ addictions.  The child of a person with a substance abuse disorder should continually be enrolled in some kind of therapy to acknowledge their parents’ addiction and avoid becoming an addict themselves.

If you’re dealing with an alcoholic co-parent or have questions about what to do in your divorce from an alcoholic or drug addict, schedule a free consultation with my Chicago, Illinois law office.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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