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Substance Abuse and Child Custody: Alcohol, Drugs, and Emerging Cannabis Issues

Recording of a 90-minute CLE webinar with Q&A

This program is included with the Strafford CLE Pass. Click for more information.
This program is included with the Strafford All-Access Pass. Click for more information.

Conducted on Thursday, June 11, 2020

Recorded event now available

or call 1-800-926-7926

This CLE course will bring family lawyers current on trends in the impact of substance use and abuse on child custody determinations. Even when a parent uses a legal substance (alcohol and now cannabis, in some jurisdictions), courts grapple with the legal implications. The best interest of the child is always paramount, and court decisions in this area vary based on the personal beliefs and attitudes of judges and other involved parties.


As attitudes toward the legality of once-taboo substances (i.e., cannabis) evolve, so does the understanding of substance use, abuse, and addiction. A parent's use or misuse of any mind-altering substance (whether alcohol, psychoactive medications, and legal medical or recreational cannabis) can be a significant factor in a court's custody determination, especially if the substance use was a basis for any child welfare involvement.

The best-interest-of-the-child standard that predominates all custody determinations does not simplify the issues. Courts may determine that a parent who regularly uses or is addicted to a substance (especially if illegal) is unfit as a custodial parent. However, use, abuse, and addiction are not necessarily permanent behaviors. When shaping relief, courts often consider a parent's willingness to avoid such substances and/or progression toward sobriety.

Assuming that a parent's use of legal cannabis has the same effect in domestic proceedings as a parent's use of alcohol disregards generations of preconceived beliefs. One commentator notes, "A valid prescription may mean nothing if a judge is against the use of marijuana and/or believes it will affect childcare."

Listen as this panel, fully acquainted and experienced with how these cases are litigated and decided, guides family attorneys on the legal and practical aspects of the role of substance use, abuse, and addiction in custody battles.



  1. Background of legality issues
  2. Traditional analysis
    1. Illegality and custody
    2. Interests of the child and legal substances
  3. Legalization and change
    1. Evolving legality: cannabis
    2. Jurisdictional conflicts
  4. Proof issues: expert witnesseses


The panel will review these and other constantly evolving questions:

  • What are the traditional judicial approaches to abuse and addiction?
  • How can substance abuse be used as a basis for child protective services investigations and neglect proceedings and how will that affect custody determinations in the future?
  • How does a parent's use of legal substances impact custody determinations?
  • What choice of law implications are there for parents in different jurisdictions with different legality constructs?


Prince, Jessica
Jessica Prince

Policy Counsel, FDP
The Bronx Defenders

Before joining The Bronx Defenders, Ms. Prince was a Criminal Defense Attorney with the Office of the Public Defender...  |  Read More

Schrot, John
John J. Schrot, Jr.

Berry Moorman

Mr. Schrot’s legal career has predominantly focused on family law and other complex civil litigation matters. He...  |  Read More

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