The Impact of Parental Alcoholism on Child Custody and Visitation

Posted by Erin Birt | Aug 12, 2022 | 0 Comments

The Impact of Parental Alcoholism on Child Custody and Visitation

Every parent and prospective parent should be aware that substance abuse can lead to restrictions in terms of child visitation and custody. In some situations, excessive alcoholism can preclude even limited custody and visitation. What matters most is whether the other parent can prove that alcoholism exists and that it negatively impacts parenting ability. Let's take a closer look at exactly how alcoholism can affect child custody and visitation.

Alcoholism's Impact on Parenting Time

If a divorcing spouse can prove their husband or wife abuses alcohol, the stage is set for the judge presiding over the divorce to rule in favor of the party that does not abuse alcohol. A favorable award for a sober parent can significantly minimize or even eliminate parenting time.

Ideally, the attorneys representing the spouses during the divorce will reach a mutually beneficial agreement that recognizes the potential impact of alcoholism on the child and reflects that shortcoming with specific language pertaining to parenting time. Such a matrimonial settlement agreement can prove mutually beneficial to both parents and the child as it still allows for interactions, albeit at a limited frequency and for a limited duration. The alternative to working out a matrimonial settlement agreement is to let the judge determine the parameters of parenting time.

Alcoholism and Sole Vs. Joint Custody

Every parent wants a say in their child's life, especially regarding living arrangements, education, and potential career training. A parent deemed an alcoholic or prone to alcoholism has the potential to be awarded joint custody or no custody. However, there is a significant difference between joint and sole custody, especially regarding decision-making responsibilities. Decisions shaped by parents about everything from the child's school to their living arrangements, extracurricular activities, and even more important matters throughout the course of adolescence are of the utmost importance.

A parent with sole custody has complete control over the child's life, albeit until the point that the child reaches the age of adulthood or legally emancipates themself. A parent with sole child custody is also likely to receive court-mandated child support payments, especially if the other party was the breadwinner in the relationship or has been determined to be irresponsible, especially in the context of substance abuse.

There is also the potential for a family court judge to determine joint custody is fair, albeit with limitations and guidelines, especially if one spouse has a track record of substance abuse or is currently an alcoholic. The challenge lies in the attorney representing the parent saddled by alcoholism making a convincing argument that joint custody is the optimal family arrangement moving forward. In some such situations, joint custody is agreed to amidst divorce proceedings and fleshed out by each side's Wheaton divorce attorneys within a detailed matrimonial settlement agreement.

How Collaborative Law or Mediation Can Help Families Battling Alcoholism

If you or your spouse are struggling with alcohol addiction or substance abuse, conventional divorce might not be the optimal path toward an outcome that benefits your child and yourself. The traditional divorce process has the potential to empower a subjective family court judge or opposing counsel to steer the course of your child's life and also shape your own life for the better or worse moving forward. If you are considering permanently separating from your spouse or significant other and you have a child, assess the merits of all available options.

Collaborative law is an alternative approach to the traditional divorce process, empowering a couple to end a marriage in a civil, orderly, and cooperative manner. Collaborative professionals ranging from attorneys to financial advisors and others work in unison to reach an outcome that benefits the parents and the children. Each party signs a participation agreement that binds them to the process that has the potential to lead to a settlement agreement that both parties find acceptable.

Alternatively, mediation is available as another form of ADR, short for alternative dispute resolution. Mediation makes it easier to establish what each relevant party deems to be a fair arrangement in terms of child custody and visitation. Mediation bypasses the traditional court process, relying on a trained mediator to oversee the conflict in a comparably informal setting.

In some situations, divorce attorneys help clients prepare for the mediation or even step in to review the resulting agreement before the matter is resolved. It must be noted that mediators do not make binding decisions. Instead, these professionals attempt to reach a mutually beneficial compromise that sets the stage for creating and honoring a formal written agreement. Regardless of the legal route you choose, our family law lawyer in Wheaton is here to guide you toward a mutually beneficial outcome and fiercely advocate on your behalf as well as that of your child.

Schedule Your Consultation Today

Are you considering a divorce? If you have a history of alcoholism or anticipate your spouse or significant other will accuse you of alcoholism during legal proceedings, lean on our substance abuse counselor and lawyer for guidance. Erin Birt, Esq. is also here for those who believe their spouse or significant other is unfit to parent a child due to alcoholism or substance abuse. Reach out to our divorce and family law attorney in Wheaton today at (630) 891-2478 to schedule your consultation and planning session.


  1. Contact DuPage County Divorce Firm: The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. (
  2. Illinois Divorce Services | The Law Firm of Erin N. Birt, P.C. (
  3. DuPage County Divorce Mediation and Family Law Mediation - The Law Firm of Erin Birt (
  4. Child Custody Mediation | Family Law | Justia


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About the Author

Erin Birt

Since 2003, Erin N. Birt, J.D., CADC has focused her practice on parenting time, divorce, mediation, and substance abuse issues. Ms. Birt's unique background in both family law and addictions counseling help her clients successfully navigate the complex issues of coparenting and divorce. Ms. Birt also devotes her time to presenting at continuing education seminars for attorneys, mediators, and counselors.


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