Navigating a child custody case is a difficult process for most parents. When a parent is an alcoholic, though, the issues are far more complicated. Data collected by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reveal that 5.8% of American adults have an alcohol use disorder. The rate is subject to rise based on findings of increased alcohol sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. The greatest concern for children in custody cases is that an alcoholic parent cannot provide a safe environment and/or is not truthful about their drinking habits.

For parents who need to protect their children from the risks of alcohol abuse by the other parent, they first must prove the other parent has a drinking problem. Then, they should consider incorporating alcohol testing or monitoring into their child custody plan to help ensure their child’s safety.

Proving Alcohol Abuse by a Parent

Three of the most common ways to establish that a parent has an alcohol problem in a child custody case are: witness testimony, EtG testing, and PEth testing.

Witness Testimony:

In many cases, a parent may be able to use witness testimony to substantiate the alcohol abuse claims. The best witnesses may be third parties who have either:

  • Observed the other parent drinking excessively in the presence of the child;
  • Admitting to a drinking problem;
  • Engaging in dangerous behaviors (like driving) while intoxicated, or
  • Have witnessed the other parent becoming angry or abusive while intoxicated.

This is not an exhaustive list and depends on the facts of each case. In some cases, a parent should consider hiring a private investigator to track the addicted parent’s whereabouts and drinking habits.

 The EtG Test:

EtG tests are helpful laboratory tests that show chronic or binge drinking by a parent. A positive EtG result suggests that a parent consumed multiple drinks in a short period of time, or consumed alcohol at a high frequency during the testing window. EtG is a metabolite of alcohol that is found in urine, hair, and nails. The testing window varies depending on the level of alcohol consumed. A high consumption of alcohol will result in a longer period of detection. In urine, ETG tests can detect chronic consumption for up to 3 to 5 days. In hair and nails, the window of detection is approximately three months.

EtG tests are ideal for zero-tolerance and abstinence situations. These tests are excellent at showing that a parent consumed a high level of alcohol during the testing window. But, an EtG test alone cannot establish that a parent consumed alcohol irresponsibly or while the children were present.

The PEth Test:

PEth tests are a fast and precise way to test for alcohol consumption by a parent.  PEth is a direct alcohol biomarker that can be detected in person’s blood. As a consequence, the results cannot be altered. The window of detection of alcohol for a PEth test is up to two to three weeks. Like EtG tests, they are only able to detect chronic alcohol abuse or binge drinking.

Alcohol Monitoring in Child Custody Cases

To protect a child from the risks posed by an alcoholic parent, it is possible to monitor his or her alcohol levels strategically during a child custody case. Alcohol monitoring will detect if the addicted parent is intoxicated or consuming alcohol when a child is present.

In some cases, parents can take EtG and PEth tests periodically to verify their sobriety throughout the testing window. But, this is not sufficient in every situation. Cases with heavy drinkers or active alcoholics should consider implementing a more frequent alcohol detection system like Soberlink. Soberlink monitors a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) using a wireless breathalyzer. It immediately sends the results to the other parent and attorneys. As a result, it is a convenient, reliable way to measure sobriety. An alcoholic parent should take a Soberlink test at frequent intervals during their custody periods to reduce the risk that alcohol is consumed between tests without detection. If a test is positive for the presence of alcohol, then the other parent can quickly retrieve the child or take other protective measures.

Addiction is a complex issue in child custody cases. With some diligence and strategy by the protective parent, it is possible to establish a safe and happy co-parenting environment for your children. If you would like more information about addiction or alcoholism in child custody cases, please contact Lindsey Obenhaus or a GoransonBain Ausley lawyer here.

Lindsey Obenhaus

“My goal in every case is to maximize my client’s legal, financial, and personal outcome so that they can move forward successfully with the next chapter in their lives.”

— Lindsey Obenhaus