Last Updated: February 17, 2022
As most people are aware, even a first driving under the influence (DUI) offense can result in severe consequences under the strict laws in every state. However, one of the less commonly known penalties of what a drinking or drugged driving conviction could bring into your life, how it will affect a child custody case. If a parent is caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs – especially with a child in the vehicle – that parent will be considered by the court to be at high risk for a child’s safety and well being.
The family law court could get involved, even when a child was not in the vehicle at the time of the DUI arrest.
Even if this is a 1st-time arrest, what is going to happen for a first offense DUI or DWI situation next, is that a social worker is very likely to become involved in your life and examine both the child custody and recent criminal DUI offense case. It is not uncommon for the court to revoke custody of the parent who gets convicted of a new driving under the influence charge.
A DUI is Bad Even Without a Child in the Car
Even in scenarios during a DUI or DWI arrest when there was no child in the vehicle at the time, a divorce or custody judge might still view this behavior as a danger to the children. They could review the events and case further, to later conclude that even though the parent who was arrested for drunk driving did not have any children in the car on that particular occasion, they may have reason to believe the charged parent did so with kids inside the vehicle in the past. Or, the divorce or custody judge might be concerned that the parent has a drinking problem and should not be left alone with the child.
When a parent gets a DUI while in the middle of a child custody battle or divorce case, the other parent and her/his attorney will use it to go on the offensive to destroy the parent who was arrested. In these cases, the family court judge will many times need to appoint a 3rd party to investigate the family, especially the parent charged with a DUI, so that the the judge can obtain additional information. Most of the time this is done by the court appointing a Child Representative or Guardian ad Litem to the case. A child representative is an attorney (most of the time a private practice divorce lawyer) that represents the best interests of the minor children involved in the case. The child representative would eventually report back to the judge and give a recommendation which the judge normally follows. A child representative is not free – most of the time they need to be paid by each parent, and can be at least $2,000 up front, split 50/50 between the parents.
A court appointed child representative will do the following:
- Conducting an interview with you and your ex-spouse.
- Having another interview with the children or other family members in the house.
- There will be a thorough investigation of the arrested parent’s daily life routine, the children’s everyday schedule, and other regular habits of the household lifestyles.
- They may search the residence and/or car for evidence of drug, alcohol, or other substance abuse. Some examples of this could include empty liquor cans or bottles, and even a credit card statement containing proof of buying recent alcohol beverages.
- Possible (probable) random drug and alcohol testing with as little as 2-hours notice to see if the parent charged with a DUI is remaining sober and staying away from any amount of alcohol or drug use.
The court-appointed child representative for a child custody case might also search through cabinets for wine or beer bottles. They can even do a surprise visit at your child’s school for a short session to ask them some additional questions, show up at your residence unannounced for a visit, and a variety of other ways to check for indications that puts the safety or well-being of any children at cause for concern. In many custody cases, a parent getting a DUI charge is what can start this investigation process, even when a child is not present kids in the car at the time of being arrested.
Child Custody and Family Law Issues After a DUI Charge
When a parent in a child custody case is later arrested for a DUI or DWI offense, this charge is very likely be used against that parent if they ever need to dispute a custody matter or want to request more access with their children in family court. Just because a custody case or divorce case is done does not mean it won’t be used against you. This is where the other parent files a motion to restrict your parenting time – sometimes done to cut you off from requesting more time in the future and to get your mistake on the record so it won’t be forgotten in the future.
A parent getting charged with driving under the influence could be viewed by the court as valid proof that justifies an earlier substance abuse allegation as truthful, which the court may see as being a serious risk factor to the children. When the court is determining the best interest of who the children are best primarily living with, a parent getting a DUI arrest can severely damage a custody case.
There are additional consequences that can happen as well upon a DUI offense conviction. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) believes that a parent caught drinking and driving with a child in the vehicle is a form of child abuse. As a result, there are currently 46 states in the country which now have extra mandatory penalties for parents who get convicted or plead guilty to drunk or drugged driving with children under the age of 15 in the car.
So, You Got a DUI – What Now?
Now is the time get your life in order – and quickly. Get a child custody lawyer. Stop drinking. Stop all drug use (even if it’s legal). Hit the gym, eat healthy, lose weight – your personal appearance will mean something now because it will show that you are either lazy and drink and do drugs, or you are a healthy individual that just made a mistake. The family law courts in each state view drug and alcohol abuse as a matter which is very often an extremely difficult issue to get under control, and as a problematic pattern which could relapse in the future at any point. This means that you need to fight against this with all you’ve got and look like it too.
Attending counseling sessions is a good way to get mentally healthy as well – and it will show the court that you are active in maintaining your mental health and are strengthening your resolve to avoid any future mistakes. Taking ownership of a mistake and making sure that it is clear it will not happen again means that you must make the court see you as a mentally fit person who works on their mental health on a regular basis. Get things moving in a positive direction now and don’t ever look back – your family and your rights depend on it.