Most focus on the opioid crisis when it comes to problems with drug addiction. However, the fact is that the issue extends much further. In fact, substance abuse and its role in family law continues to escalate on a daily basis.
First, there’s the obvious. Unfortunately, alcohol abuse often plays a role in events leading to domestic violence incidents. In order to qualify a restraining order from Family Court, you don’t have to be married to be considered a domestic violence victim.
Of course, that’s not to say that just drunken behavior adds to family disputes. Any kind of substance abuse impacts thought processes and inappropriate actions. As much as it hurts to look for protection, it beats the alternative.
What about the impact of substance abuse on marriage? Without question, drug or alcohol abuse raises concerns when it comes to a lifetime of marital vows. Many people choose to take a less confrontational approach to ending their marriage and opt for some form of no-fault divorce.
That said, NJSA 2A:34-2 specifies the recognized causes for divorce from the bond of matrimony in New Jersey. Under Part e of the statute, you may file to put an end to your marriage, citing the following:
Voluntarily induced addiction or habituation to any narcotic drug as defined in the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act, P.L.1970, c.226 or habitual drunkenness for a period of 12 or more consecutive months subsequent to marriage and next preceding the filing of the complaint.
With all of this in mind, substance abuse and its role in family law matters when it comes to children. Often, it presents as an issue in cases involving custody and parenting time issues.
Substance Abuse: How It Impacts Custody and Parenting Time
In most cases, mothers and fathers consider part of their role as parents to act as protectors. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to end the marriage. Children have the right to be loved by both parents. Additionally, the courts aren’t eager to deprive parents of their relationships with their sons and daughters.
Obviously, there’s a caveat to both determinations. The court joins in parental concerns when it comes to the safety of children. No doubt there are workarounds as far as supervised visitation. In some cases, the court also appoints a guardian ad litem to look at for the child’s best interests.
A recent New Jersey Appellate Division decision made it to the appeals court because of issues concerning attorneys’ fees. Nonetheless, it offered some insight into concerns that revolved around a father’s substance abuse issues.
Substance Abuse and Its Role in Family Law: An Exemplary Case
The court decided the matter of Crawford v. Minch on July 9, 2019. Although the Appellate Division elected not to publish the case, it still applies to the named parties. Again, the appeal deals with the father’s objection to paying counsel fees. However, his substance abuse presented as a critical problem as it related to custody and parenting time.
Maureen C. Crawford and Paul J. Minch decided to get divorced after just a short time of marriage. According to the case history, they were only together about a year and a half when they divorced on December 22, 2016. They had one child together.
The couple signed a Matrimonial Settlement Agreement (MSA) that became part of the final divorce papers. Since Paul was deployed overseas, it wasn’t immediately for the parties to come up with a formal parenting schedule.
Instead, the MSA contained general language, allowing for “”general, reasonable and liberal shared parenting time.” Almost six months later to the date, Paul went back to court. He not only requested joint custody. Paul also motioned the court to modify child support allocations and wanted a parenting schedule and holiday schedule put in place.
Notably, Maureen represented herself when the case was subsequently appealed. However, it appears she did have counsel at the trial court level. In any event, on August 15, 2017, Maureen cross-motioned and opposed her ex-husband’s motion. She requested sole custody of the child. Additionally, she sought enforcement of the existing child support order, as well as counsel fees.
In the certification Maureen submitted to the court, she provided three critical allegations pertaining to Matt, as follows:
- Substance abuse issues
- Mental health problems
- Possession of numerous firearms
The first step the trial court took was to order Maureen and Paul to attend custody and parenting time mediation.
A Host of Directives from the Judge
Although the court ordered mediation, it did so with the understanding that it didn’t necessarily mean resolution was possible. If it wasn’t the court intended to conduct a best interests hearing.
In addition to the order for the parents to go through the mediation process, the court executed further directives. To begin with, the judge ordered an inspection of Matt’s home with a subsequent report submitted to the court. During the course of the evaluation, Matt could set up supervised visits for weekly parenting time.
Meanwhile, the judge also addressed the allegations concerning the father’s substance abuse issues. Both parties were directed to split the cost of an evaluation related to the alleged abuse, as well as the charges associated with an outside agency supervising the visits.
The court instructed Matt to supply an inventory of his weapons, including those previously in his possession. Additionally, Matt needed to advise the court of the whereabouts of any weapons no longer in his control.
The judge further directed Matt to continue to pay child support according to the agreement made in the MSA. At that time, the court denied Maureen’s request for counsel fees.
After Matt’s home inspection, the report indicated there were no concerns. Matt began his supervised parenting time. He also supplied information regarding the guns that were no longer in his possession. However, he did not supplement the documentation with bills of sale.
The substance abuse evaluation resulted in positive findings as far as anabolic steroids and alcohol.
Although the parents made two attempts at custody and parenting time mediation, neither proved successful. Subsequently, they returned to court.
Returning to Court for Direction
On December 14, 2017, the parties returned to court. The judge reviewed the parenting time report. In part, it cited reasons that it appeared difficult to predict if Matt was ready for unsupervised visits. The outside agency suggested it might be best that a neutral party supervised the visits. This might help establish the bond between the father and child.
In the meantime, the court found the information Matt supplied regarding the weapons to be deficient. It ordered Matt to provide more extensive details in compliance with the original order.
As part of the December appearance, the court scheduled a best interests hearing for January 31, 2018. When Maureen and Matt showed up in January, the judge held a case management hearing and discussed a few issues. Among them were Matt’s delinquent child support payments and issues related to his guns.
The case dragged on, due in great part, to Matt’s failure to abide by the court’s directives. Although the judge initially denied Maureen’s request for counsel fees, it ultimately determined that Matt needed to pay Maureen’s attorney nearly $27K. (Maureen’s counsel fees exceeded $42K.)
What about the issues regarding substance abuse? While it appears that Matt complied with some aspects of the undergoing substance abuse evaluations, he unilaterally stopped going to supervised parenting time. Matt also failed to schedule court-ordered psychiatric and best interests evaluations.
At some point, Matt gave up on the idea of joint custody and overnight visits. He amended his court motion to seek only supervised visits.
Was substantive abuse indeed a problem? The positive test results only tell part of the story. Surely, the psychiatric and best interest evaluations would have added more.
The bottom line is that a child’s best interests remain paramount. Substance abuse issues may contribute to safety concerns. Anyone worried about these types of problems should seek protection for their child.
Substance abuse and mental illness often represent dual diagnoses. These issues can create cause for concern. The Law Offices of Sam Stoia recognizes the critical nature of both. Contact our office for a one-hour complimentary consultation to see how we can assist you.