Drug Abuse and Child Custody

Drug Abuse and Child Custody

Child custody cases can be emotionally challenging, especially when the well-being of a child is at stake. In North Carolina, like in many other jurisdictions, drug abuse by a parent can significantly impact custody decisions. The Courts extend the definition of drug abuse to alcohol, abuse of prescription medication, marijuana, and other illegal substances. 

Legal Considerations:

When it comes to child custody cases involving drug abuse, North Carolina courts prioritize the best interests of the child. Here are some key legal considerations:

  1. Substance Abuse as a Factor

    North Carolina courts consider substance abuse as a factor when determining child custody arrangements. It can be viewed as detrimental to the child’s well-being and can influence custody decisions.

  2. Burden of Proof

    The burden of proof lies with the party seeking to demonstrate the parent’s drug abuse and its impact on the child. This often requires presenting substantial evidence, such as drug test results, witness testimonies, or records of prior convictions or treatment, which can sometimes be difficult to do. 

Collecting Evidence:

With substantial evidence required to hold a parent accountable for drug abuse, it’s important to acknowledge the ways in which evidence can be collected. Court approved proof can include:

  1. Subpoena

    Subpoenas are legal orders that require the receiver to appear at Court, answer questions, or provide requested documents. These can be sent to doctors offices, law enforcement, schools, etc. 

  2. Discovery

    Similar to a subpoena, a discovery is a tool requiring the receiver to truthfully answer requested questions. These are usually sent to the opposing party. 


    Downloads can be taken from texts, emails, or social media posts depicting concerning behavior.

  4. Testimony

    Third parties can testify in Court if they’ve witnessed drug related behavior from the opposing party.

  5. Drug tests

    Failed drug screens can help solidify a case. There are certain instances where a court ordered drug test may be mandated.

  6. Records

    Arrest records can be the most incriminating evidence to collect. This includes arrests relating to public intoxication, DWI, or DUI’s in the last ten years.

Potential Consequences:

A parent’s drug abuse can lead to various consequences in child custody cases. These consequences may include:

  1. Restricted Visitation

    If a parent’s drug abuse poses a risk to the child’s safety or well-being, the court may grant restricted visitation rights or supervised visitation, ensuring the child’s safety during contact with the parent.

  2. Loss of Custody

    In severe cases where a parent’s drug abuse significantly impairs their ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment, the court may award primary custody or sole custody to the other parent or a third party, with limited or no visitation for the drug-abusing parent.

Seeking Help and Rehabilitation:

While drug abuse can negatively impact child custody cases, seeking help and rehabilitation can significantly improve a parent’s chances of maintaining or regaining custody. Here are important steps to consider:

  1. Acknowledgment and Acceptance

    Recognize the issue and take responsibility for the impact of drug abuse on your child’s well-being and your ability to parent effectively.

  2. Professional Guidance

    Consult with a qualified family law attorney experienced in child custody matters. They can provide valuable advice, explain legal options, and guide you through the legal process.

  3. Substance Abuse Treatment

    Engage in a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program. Completing a rehabilitation program, participating in counseling, and maintaining sobriety demonstrate commitment to personal growth and the welfare of your child.

  4. Documentation

    Keep records of your progress in recovery, including attendance at support group meetings, therapy sessions, and any certificates or testimonials from substance abuse programs.

  5. Child’s Well-being

    Prioritize your child’s safety, emotional well-being, and best interests. Cooperate with court-ordered evaluations, attend hearings, and demonstrate your commitment to being a responsible and loving parent.


Child custody cases in North Carolina are decided with the best interests of the child in mind, and drug abuse can significantly impact parental rights. It is crucial for parents facing drug abuse issues to seek help, engage in rehabilitation, and demonstrate their commitment to their child’s well-being. By taking proactive steps, a parent can work towards rebuilding trust, potentially regaining custody, and providing a stable and nurturing environment for their child’s growth and development.