What happens if allegations of alcohol or substance abuse are made in children proceedings?

Press reports late last year suggested that following their acrimonious separation, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt reached agreement as to the arrangements for their children and that Brad Pitt was prepared to undergo regular random drug and alcohol tests after reportedly, a lifetime of substance abuse.

It is not uncommon for allegations of drug or alcohol abuse to be made by one parent against the other in contested Court proceedings with reference to the arrangements for their children. Often it is the parent with whom the child lives that makes the allegation and sometimes this is in the hope or belief that the other parent will no longer be able to play a part in their child’s life.

The law now provides that when considering a contested application with reference to the arrangements for a child, the Court is “to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of each relevant parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare”.

Where allegations are made against a parent therefore, it is for the Court to determine whether the allegation is true and if so, whether it will have a clear impact upon the child’s welfare. In doing so, the Court must determine whether there is evidence that the parent’s involvement will place the child at risk of suffering harm.  If the Court is satisfied that this is the case, then it must consider whether the parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that would not place the child at risk of harm by putting in place appropriate safeguards.

These safeguards may include making an Order that is conditional upon the parent not consuming alcohol and/or illegal drugs during the time that parent spends with their child and for any time with the child to be supervised by a third party so as to ensure that parent is not under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

In those circumstances therefore, the Court may determine that continued involvement of that parent, albeit subject to conditions, is in the best interests of the child’s welfare and an Order will provide for the parent to spend time with their child.

Consequently, it is extremely unlikely that allegations of drug or alcohol abuse will result in a parent being prevented from having a relationship with their child. As always, the Court’s paramount consideration when determining the arrangements for the child is the child’s welfare and the starting point must be that an ongoing relationship with both parents is in their best interests.

Article written by Dawn Gore