Remedies in Illinois family law when a parent has drug or alcohol addiction

By Jeffery M. Leving

A parent's chemical addiction can have negative - even dangerous - effects on their children. Tragically, addiction to prescription opioid painkillers or illegal opioids like heroin, alcohol, methamphetamine, cocaine, prescription drugs that boost mood like Valium, inhalants, sleeping pills or other substances is far too common in Illinois and across the country.

How might it be problematic for an addicted parent to supervise their child?

Addiction can prevent an otherwise good parent from keeping their kids safe as well as from creating a healthy home environment with routine and structure. In a more serious situation, the addicted parent may go through times when they are unaware of their actions, sleeping when they should be with their children, inviting people to their home involved in providing drugs or partying when the children are there, leaving children alone and engaging in various other dysfunctional behaviors. Of course, some people when under the influence becoming violent, angry or otherwise abusive.

People of all backgrounds, genders and income levels may become addicted to chemical substances. Addiction has a genetic component and people with other mental health diagnoses (like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, psychosis or certain personality disorders) are at higher risk.

Illinois law provides protection for kids of addicted parents

State statutes governing parenting time - commonly known as custody and visitation - and the right to make parental decisions focus on the child's best interests as the "guiding star." Navigating the legal issues related to custody and parental decision-making when addiction is in the picture can happen in several situations: unmarried parents, divorcing couples, separating parents or divorced parents having trouble with their custody arrangements.

In an initial custody proceeding, called allocation of parental responsibilities of decision-making and of parenting time, such as in divorce or between unmarried parents (where parentage has been established), the court must discern the children's best interests by weighing anything relevant to the particular children, including certain factors in a statutory list. One of those relevant to addiction is the parents' physical and mental health.

However, if the court feels the addiction "seriously endanger[s] the child's mental, moral, or physical health or that [it] significantly impair[s] the child's emotional development," the judge must enter orders to protect the child. Those orders might include denial or reduction of decision-making responsibility or parenting time, supervised visitation, a ban on certain people being present during parenting time, or any other court order that would keep the child safe.

The law that provides for restricted parental responsibilities when a parent's behavior seriously endangers the child includes possible court orders relevant to addiction. It could order the parent not to possess or consume a particular substance when they are with the child or for a set time period before parenting time begins. Or, the judge could order the addicted parent into treatment.

Should an addiction arise or worsen after divorce or another proceeding that set parental responsibilities, Illinois law includes provisions for requesting the court modify the earlier order to protect the child.

At any stage, the most extreme solution would be the termination of the addicted person's parental rights, but that is difficult in Illinois if that parent wants to keep their rights. A lawyer can answer questions about parental rights as well as the other solutions we have discussed.

The attorneys at my firm, The Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd. in Chicago, represent parents - primarily fathers - trying to restrict the custody and decision-making powers of the other parent based on addiction, as well as parents defending against false accusations of substance abuse, in Cook County, across Illinois, in the Midwest and nationally.

Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd., and is an advocate for the rights of fathers. He is the author of Fathers' Rights, Divorce Wars and How to be a Good Divorced Dad, the latter of which was endorsed by President Obama and by Cardinal Francis E. George, then the archbishop of Chicago. To learn more about Leving and his latest court victories, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.