dad drinking near daughter - Mundahl Law, PLLC

We live in a society that has normalized drinking, even drinking to excess. T-shirts that say “It’s beer o’clock.” Insulated travel coffee mugs emblazoned with “This might be wine.” Most adults engage in this perfectly legal activity, and most don’t have any problems as a result. But some do, and those problems extend to their families, especially their children. If you are divorced, is your drinking affecting your parenting time? If your ex has a drinking problem, how do you handle knowing that they might be drinking while your kids are in their care?

In this post, we’re going to steer clear of the term “alcoholic.” Many people don’t believe that label applies to them, or aren’t sure. But whether or not it applies to you, if you drink sometimes, and it causes stress within your family or problems for you, it’s important to figure out how to deal with it: not just for kids, but for yourself.

What Does Problem Drinking Look Like for a Parent?

In some ways, the fact that drinking is legal and common makes it more difficult to identify when there is a problem. Many of us grew up with our parents throwing cocktail parties and with dad, standing at the barbecue grill, summoning one of the kids to bring him a beer. The fact that you drink around your child is not necessarily a problem. But when does the line into problem drinking get crossed?

One sign that your drinking is affecting your parenting time is if someone suggests to you that it is. That suggestion might come from your ex, and you might therefore treat it as suspect. Your ex might have an axe to grind, or be angling to increase their own parenting time. But also, consider that there might be a grain of truth in the allegation. Most people don’t suggest that someone has a drinking problem unless there’s at least some evidence to support it.

Other signs that your drinking might affect your parenting time include:

  • You have drunk alcohol, especially multiple drinks, while watching your children.
  • You have passed out while you were supposed to be supervising them.
  • You have driven your children in a car after drinking.
  • A friend or loved one has suggested you cut back on drinking, even jokingly (many people want to express concern, but don’t want to be confrontational).
  • You lose your temper with your children more easily when you drink, or your children appear afraid of you when you drink.
  • You have been late to parenting time or a child’s event, or late to drop off a child, because of drinking, or you have missed a scheduled event altogether because of drinking.

Minnesota, like many other states, decides custody matters based on “the best interests of the child.” In evaluating these best interests, the court must consider a number of factors, including “any mental, physical, and chemical health issue that affects the child’s safety or developmental needs.” The addition of “chemical health” to the custody statute is a relatively recent one. It acknowledges substance abuse, including alcohol, as a health issue rather than a moral one. It also allows a family court to make distinctions between a parent who is actively abusing alcohol and one who recognizes that there is an issue and who is pursuing recovery. If you feel like your drinking is becoming a problem that you can’t keep under control even when your kids are with you, the courts will look at you more favorably for seeking help than denying the problem.

Parenting Time When Your Ex Has a Drinking Problem

Chances are, if your ex has a drinking problem, it contributed to the breakdown of your marriage. You may have even stuck around in the marriage longer than you wanted to because you feared what would happen when you divorced and your kids had to spend time with your ex without you there to protect them.

The court wants to make decisions that protect children, but it cannot make them arbitrarily. Therefore, it is in your best interest, and your child’s, to document as much of what is going on as possible. If your attorney needs to file a motion on your behalf, it helps to be able to cite dates, times, specific behaviors and events, as well as witnesses who were present and could testify to your version of events.

In general, you should make efforts to comply with any existing parenting time orders, but obviously, if doing so poses a present risk to your child (like your ex shows up drunk to transport the child), protect your child’s safety. Speak to your attorney as soon as possible to discuss options for modifying parenting time in such a way to protect your child while also allowing them the best possible contact with their other parent. That might mean no overnights with the drinking parent, or even supervised visitation if the situation warrants it.

If you have more questions about substance abuse and parenting time, we invite you to contact our law office.

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