Custody and Alcoholism or Addiction

Happy Children Playing Kids

How do you make sure your children are safe when left alone with an alcoholic or addict?

How do you trust anything your addict or alcoholic co-parent says?

What resources exist for helping a mom or dad out when sharing their children with an alcoholic or addict?

What is the right thing to do when sharing children with a known liar and user?

How do you do what’s best for the kids (maximum time with each parent, minimal observed fighting) while maintaining small children’s safety?

These are the questions I have grappled with for nearly a year now.

And let me tell you, there are no clear answers and there is no marked path.

This feels like uncharted territory, with a raving lunatic as my co-pilot.

When I crafted a legal separation document, with the help of my lawyer, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. She wasn’t really sure either; she’s a good lawyer but not an expert in addiction matters. As I’ve found, very few are.

I asked several counselors at our favorite rehab facility (soon-to-be-ex is a two time attendee, 0 time graduate), but they don’t like to get involved in custody matters. Off the record a counselor told me I was wise to be strict and that based on the little recovery he’d seen and what he knows of the dangerous drugs Zach was using, he wouldn’t trust him alone, either.

I asked a court-appointed parenting expert, she wasn’t sure either, but surely the court had assigned somebody?

No, I answered, he signed a separation agreement without getting a lawyer, we avoided the courts.

She had no advice to give.

So I am in this alone, making it up as I go, with only my Higher Power, my intuition, and my limited knowledge of addiction/alcoholism to get me by.

Here are the basics of our separation agreement:

Phase 1:

  • Supervised visits, 3-4 times/week
  • Monthly psychiatrist appointments
  • Must show sobriety, as evidenced by graduation from a rehab program or attendance at AA/NA meetings six times a week
  • Husband will provide Wife with documentation of all points above in a regular, timely basis; if Husband does not show documentation there will be no visits in the forthcoming week

Phase II:

  • After Husband has complied with all points of phase 1, and shown sobriety for six months, he shall have supervised visits as long as he continues 12-step work or rehab work

Phase III:

  • As long as phase I and phase II requirements are met, overnights with Baby Brother shall start on the same schedule as with Older Brother

Etc. This is not all and it is paraphrased so as to avoid confusing legalese, but you get the point.

Has any of this happened so far since it went into effect seven months ago?

Kind of… The supervised vists have occurred, but have I seen any documentation of anything?

No. And of course that’s my fault (according to Zach).

It’s my fault he didn’t finish rehab. I found drugs pretty much out in the open and told his drug counselor; we brought it up in a group session the next night. Husband denied it (it was old! I forgot it was there! I’m sober, I swear!). No one believed him. Then, he got so belligerent and argumentative, he was suspended from the rehab program because he was impeding the group’s progress.

“I have four relapsed heroin addicts who are admitting to relapse and need help–he was obstructing the group,” Counselor said. But he was invited to come back for 1-on-1 counseling. Zach declined.

That was four months ago, and that was the last I heard of his recovery/push for more time with the children.

Until tonight.

Zach asked for a meeting. I was prepared to review his paperwork, and was hoping that maybe this time he’d even try hard, be honest, or dazzle me with changes.

None of that happened.

He brought a half-assed, barely signed sheet with some signatures from meetings several weeks ago. A start, I said, but you haven’t been to any in the last week.

Also, you were supposed to show sobriety for six months before getting the kids unsupervised. This only dates back a few weeks.

He got pissed. Cried. Yelled. Swore. Tried to rip the agreement in half (it was too thick so he couldn’t do it). Stormed off and came back. Blamed me for everything.

I am to blame for the following:

  • not graduating from rehab
  • kicking him out
  • making him sign a separation agreement
  • having too much power
  • keeping him away from his kids
  • not making this process clear
  • having resentments that are clouding my judgment
  • not trusting him: “No matter what I do, you’ll never believe me. I could get months of AA meeting slips signed, and you’re so angry, you’ll never believe me.” My reply: “After years of dishonesty, I don’t believe you. Your word is no longer enough. Show me you’re safe to take the kids. I’ve been to meetings–get the stamp next time.”

I calmly handed his anger back to him. I didn’t try to chase after him or fix it or blame him. I didn’t get angry or tell him it’s all his fault.

I listened and asked questions and he calmed down and when he left, we hugged.

He is going to find a lab that will do random drug screens for his drugs of choice, and show me 6 meeting slips by next Sunday. If he doesn’t, no kids. If he can’t follow our plan, we’re going to court.

This is not my area of expertise, and after all of the Al-Anon work I’ve done, I know I can’t compel him to get sober. I feel uncomfortable asking him to show meeting slips at all–it’s not my business–but after much brainstorming that was the only tangible thing I could think of that would show recovery.

But he’s tricky. He used drugs and drank nightly for years and I could never put my finger on it, and the more I asked the angrier and more defensive he became.

I’m bowing out of the dance.

For tonight, my kids are safe, and for once, I did not react. Nor did I bend my boundary.

I feel good, or as good as one could in a shitty situation like this.

Still, this is really challenging.

Those of you who co-parent with an alcoholic or addict, how do you make sure your kids are safe, especially when they spend the night away from you?

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7 thoughts on “Custody and Alcoholism or Addiction

  1. I’m impressed at what you have set up so,far and how well you are using the Al Anon tools to not let his stuff confuse you. He clearly isn’t capable of taking responsibility for himself yet, let alone your kids. Good for you for staying grounded through this really hard issue.

  2. Sounds like you are writing about my situation with my ex. I had pretty much the same written legal requirements and he never complied with any of these. Everything was my fault. I probably should have taken him back to court but thank God that I had sole custody. Our children are older now and still report to me that he is drunk whenever they are with him… with is only 5-6 times a year. He has not changed… Please do not back down. Stand your ground. I will pray for you and your children. Many blessings to you.

    • Oh, isn’t that the truth. Everything is our fault! And when I ask him to step up and do something, he says, “well, you kicked me out!” Yes, I say with patience, but you still have two children. “Do I?” He counters. The addict’s ability to lie and blame is exhausting. All I can do is laugh and cry. Thanks for your support and for reading.

      • I totally understand. I kept a journal of everyday with his nasty, sarcastic comments and recorded conversations in case my children needed to know when they were older. I never needed to show them because they saw his behavior for themselves, but the journals helped me with my book that is about to be published.. The Walking Wounded… I hope you read it.

  3. I’ve been reading your recent posts, and thinking about your situation and mine, our parallels, our struggles, our grief. I, personally, always feel particularly crappy knowing that I should be thankful for the things I do have: wonderful, healthy children; a home; work; and a whole list of etceteras. But I focus on what I don’t have: a supportive partner, the person I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, a husband who was supposed to be there through thick and thin. I have an alcoholic and addict for a husband, and I blame myself for not paying attention to ALL the red flags I noticed when we were dating. I married him and we had kids. Now we have a terrible, twisted relationship, with our children caught in the middle.

    My husband, like yours, perhaps like all addicts and alcoholics, blames me for everything: for his disease, for leaving him at his darkest hour, for taking his children away, etc. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. I should just suck it, apparently, as any good wife would do. Live with his disease, and become sickly and bitter in the process.

    My husband tried to kill himself recently. He really did. And he notified me as he was doing it, so I had to mobilize his family and 911 to rescue him, because I was too far away to get there in time. He was hospitalized and released after 5 days. Then he expected forgiveness.

    I am so completely sick and tired of it. I am exhausted, and I don’t even know how I can continue to deal with this person forever, shuffling our kids back and forth. Yes, supervised visits are in order, and my kids will not be staying over at his house.

    I haven’t legally initiated the divorce process. Silly me! I say silly, because I soooo want to divorce him, but I’m afraid of what he’ll do to himself. Once again, I’m caught worrying about him and not me.

    I have no answers anymore. Just grief, and loneliness, and despair. Just wanted you to know that I appreciate reading your stories, because although we are far away, we’re actually quite close.

    • I have also gone around and around, looking back on red flags, kicking myself for not knowing sooner. But I think we have to forgive ourselves for doing the best we could’ve done at the time. I know denial has been like a cozy blanket and taking it off has left a chill that I wasn’t quite ready to deal with. Anyway, I’m glad my writing has brought you some feelings of comfort. You are not in this alone.

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