How Drug Addiction Affects Child Custody In North Carolina

  1. Child Custody
  2. How Drug Addiction Affects Child Custody In North Carolina
Parent consoles child with resting hands on child’s lap. | New Direction Family Law

Drug and alcohol abuse can destroy marriages and parent’s relationships with their children. For couples and spouses, addiction can induce an emotional roller coaster by destroying trust, inhibiting intimacy, and even may result in abusive behavior. The negative consequences can be more extensive, and the situation becomes even more troublesome with children. 

Drug addiction is known to have detrimental impacts on children’s well-being and development. Because of the unhealthy situation caused by a parent’s drug addiction, courts can alter child custody agreements in North Carolina. 

Impacts of Parental Drug Addiction 

Any Child Protective Services caseworker will tell you about the many harms they see children experience when their parents are addicted to drugs. Here are some of the many impacts of drug addiction on children. 

Increased risk of substance abuse

Growing up in an environment where substance abuse is normalized can make children more susceptible to developing their own drug abuse problems in the future. They may turn to drugs as a way to cope with their emotional pain or as a form of rebellion.


Parents struggling with addiction often prioritize obtaining and using drugs over their children’s basic needs, such as food, clothing, and a safe environment. This neglect can lead to malnutrition, poor hygiene, and unsafe living conditions, which can have long-term health consequences for the child.

Financial Burdens

Drug addiction often leads to financial problems, such as job loss and debt. Children may lack access to essential resources like proper healthcare, education, and extracurricular activities due to the family’s financial instability. This can hinder their overall development and future prospects.

Legal consequences

In some cases, children may be exposed to illegal activities associated with drug addiction, such as drug dealing or violence. This exposure can put the parent struggling with addiction at risk of legal trouble and further disrupt the children’s lives.

Domestic Violence

Substance abuse can create a chaotic home environment where the child feels constantly on edge. This instability can arise from a parent who becomes violent when they are under the influence. Growing up in this environment, children may struggle to learn how to establish trust and stability in their own lives.

Academic struggles 

The emotional and environmental challenges caused by parental drug addiction can hinder a child’s ability to concentrate on their studies, resulting in academic underachievement and a reduced chance of reaching their full potential.

What Can Happen In Court?

North Carolina’s child custody laws are designed to promote a continuing relationship between a parent and child; however, in doing so courts must also focus on a child’s safety by taking into account “mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, or any other factor the court deems appropriate.” Judges take child safety seriously and are aware of the harm that a parent’s drug abuse can create for a child. 

In a child custody proceeding, courts consider a parent’s drug or alcohol dependency, and judges have the discretion to impose severe restrictions and limitations on a parent’s custody rights, visitation, and access to the child. In extreme cases, evidence of a parent’s addiction may support the termination of parental rights.

Restricted and Conditional Visitation

Courts may order visitation that is conditioned on a parent demonstrating they have refrained from drug or alcohol use. A court may order a parent with an addiction to a controlled substance to complete some form of treatment and submit to drug testing to visit with the child. Alternatively, a parent with an alcohol addiction may be ordered to abstain from consuming alcohol and submit to an alcohol monitoring system as a condition of visitation or possession of a child. The court may order that a third party should supervise this conditional visitation.

If a parent demonstrates a genuine commitment to treatment and sobriety, the court may modify and expand a parent’s visitation and access. Courts want to be confident in these decisions and may consider a parent’s proof of treatment, proof of therapy, the input of the child’s therapist, and the desires of the child. In essence, courts want to know that a parent can safely care for their child and want to allow more frequent contact, as that is usually in the child’s best interest.

Termination Of Parental Rights 

Unfortunately, there are situations when parents are unable to break free from their addiction. Although it’s sad to see, judges will make decisions that are in the best interests of the children and their future.  According to Legal Aid of North Carolina, here are reasons why parental rights are terminated. 

  1. The parent is unable to provide proper care and supervision of the children due to drug addiction, mental illness, or another condition.
  2. The parent has abandoned the children for six or more consecutive months.
  3. A court has ruled that the parent abused or neglected the children.
  4. The parent failed to pay child support to the other parent who has custody without an explanation.

Modifying A Child Custody Agreement 

When you find yourself in a situation where you suspect that the other parent is struggling with substance abuse, it’s essential to address this issue while safeguarding your children. Here are some steps to consider without breaching your existing custody arrangement.

Initiate a conversation 

Start a conversation with your ex-spouse about what they are struggling with. Encourage an open dialogue where they can acknowledge their addiction. Together, you may be able to establish child custody schedules that ensure your children’s safety, allowing you to maintain contact during their time with the other parent.

Talk With Older Children

If your children are of an appropriate age, engage in a conversation with them about responsible behavior. This conversation should encompass recognizing signs of intoxication and understanding when to avoid riding with someone who has consumed alcohol or drugs. Empower your children by letting them know they can always reach out to you or another trusted adult if they ever feel unsafe. However, be cautious not to place your children in a difficult position by discussing the other parent in excessive detail, as this might make them feel like they are being asked to spy or report on the other parent.

Collect Evidence

Document any evidence that demonstrates the potential danger posed to your children due to the addiction. This could include legal records such as drug-related arrests or DUI incidents, as well as any proof that your ex-spouse’s behavior has resulted in harm to your child.

Talk With An Attorney

If the substance abuse situation places your children in immediate and serious jeopardy, your attorney may seek emergency custody orders. As a more long-term solution, your attorney will prepare a motion to modify the existing child custody agreement through the legal system.

Seek Guidance From New Direction Family Law 

Dealing with addiction and its impact on child custody can be a daunting challenge, particularly when your children’s well-being is in question. However, you can count on the skilled attorneys at New Direction Family Law to assist you. At New Direction, we specialize in child custody matters to help you and your children reach a positive outcome. Let us help you today. We proudly serve clients in Wake, Johnston, Durham, and surrounding counties. Give us a call at (919) 646-6554 to schedule a consultation, or fill out our contact form

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