Alcohol abuse is a problem that affects millions of families across the U.S. A branch of the federal Department of Health and Human Services did a study that revealed that in excess of 10% of children in this country “live with a parent with alcohol problems.” When a parent with alcohol problems goes through a divorce, that problem may make working out a parenting plan more complex. Whether you or your ex-spouse is the parent is the one with drinking issues, it is important to recognize that there are certain things you can do within your parenting plan to address the problems, but there are also limits on your options. As you work through these difficult issues, it is invaluable to have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney to give you the thoughtful legal advice and effective advocacy your family needs as you set up your parenting plan.
A family from Broward County who recently went before the Florida courts is an example of the many facets of these cases. The mother filed for divorce after nine years of marriage, citing the father’s drinking. The mother asked the judge to order a parenting plan that awarded her majority timesharing along with ultimate decision-making authority, and that limited the father to supervised visits. The father argued for unsupervised visits and shared decision-making.
The judge ultimately awarded the father unsupervised visits, but made them conditional on his refraining from drinking. To make sure the father was abstaining, the plan called for the father to undergo blood-alcohol content (BAC) testing at the beginning and end of each visit. The judge also gave the mother the right to demand, at her discretion, ”periodic and immediate BAC tests,” even when the father didn’t have the children. The order further demanded that the father pay 100% of the costs associated with all of the BAC testing.
The appeals court issued an opinion explaining that some of the provisions in this plan were allowed by Florida law, but some were not permitted. The law allows trial courts to demand that parents abstain from alcohol. The law also allows the courts to order BAC tests to ensure that the parent with a drinking problem is actually abstaining.
Every requirement must be reasonable and needed for the ‘welfare of the child’
What the law didn’t permit, though, was the part where the mother held total discretion to demand that the father undergo immediate testing whenever the mother saw fit, even if the father didn’t have the kids. All of these things, including the “no drinking” obligation and the BAC testing demand, are what the law calls “restrictions” on time-sharing. The law allows restrictions on timesharing only when those restrictions are reasonable and are “necessary to protect the welfare of the child.” Requiring BAC tests at the beginning and end of the father’s visits was reasonable and clearly connected to the welfare of the children. Giving the mother the authority to order testing whenever she wanted was neither reasonable nor necessary to protect the children’s welfare.
The plan also contained a flaw in making the father 100% liable for all costs associated with the BAC testing. Under Florida law, costs associated with restrictions on timesharing are considered child support. Instead of making the costs the father’s sole responsibility, those costs should have been calculated into the father’s overall child support obligation, somewhat like how a supporting parent might get credit for paying 100% of a child’s school tuition or certain other expenses of the child.
For every family going through divorce where there are minor children involved, there are challenges, including the implementation of a parenting plan. Those challenges often become amplified when one or both parents have issues with alcohol. To make sure your case has the benefit of the thoughtful advice and helpful solution recommendations you need, reach out to the skillful South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A., with our many years of experience helping families just like yours navigate the processes of divorce and child custody. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.