A New Hampshire Divorce Attorney’s Perspective on New Hampshire’s Opioid Epidemic
Experienced divorce attorneys and family law lawyers in Portsmouth, Dover and Seacoast New Hampshire are increasingly dealing with drafting NH parentings plans where one parent is struggling with a substance abuse issue – addiction to opioids, opiates, alcohol and other illegal substances. Whether in a New Hampshire divorce, or NH parenting action, the parent with the substance abuse problem is usually slow to recognize the extent of his/her addiction and its effect on the children. The substance abuser is often too impaired to make good decisions for the children and inadvertently puts them in unsafe situations The other parent in the New Hampshire divorce or NH parenting action is often confused, scared and usually unsure about what to do.
“When a parent reaches out to me, I often offer several suggestions with regard to the New Hampshire Parenting Plan.”
Opioid Abuse Need Not Permanently End NH Parenting Rights
Chronic abuse of opioids, opiates, alcohol, cocaine, or marijuana are classified as a disorder It is not caused by a parent’s failure of willpower or a moral defect. New Hampshire family division courts recognize that substance abusers who successfully address their addictions are capable co-parents who are entitled to equal parenting rights vis a vis the other parent.
Opioid Abusers Must Demonstrate Their Sobriety in Order to Exercise Their Parenting Rights
However, NH family division courts also recognize that untreated substance abusers pose a safety risk to their child(ren), no matter how much they love them. It is therefore common for NH family division courts to restrict the parental rights and responsibilities of a substance abusing parent unless and until s/he can demonstrate via objective evidence that s/he has addressed his/her addiction.
Temporary Restrictions on Legal Decision-Making and Legal Custody for Opioid Abusing Parentings
With regard to legal decision-making, or legal custody, it is common for the family division court to temporarily award sole legal decision-making, or sole legal custody, to the parent who does not have the substance abuse problem. Consequently, it makes sense for parties, if possible, to include a similar provision in their NH parenting plan. The parenting plan should list the conditions under which the impaired parent can regain joint legal decision-making or joint legal custody over the parties’ child(ren).
Residential Responsibility and Physical Custody in Parenting Plans Involving Opioid Abusing Parents
With regard to residential responsibility, or physical custody, it is common for family division courts to require the substance abuser’s parenting time be supervised or that parenting time be at the discretion of the non-abusing parent. Including a provision such as this in a New Hampshire parenting plan is reasonable in cases of substance abuse, so long as objective standards delineate how the substance abuser can regain parenting time with his/her child(ren).
Objective Standards in New Hampshire Parenting Plans for Assessing and Achieving Sobriety
Examples of objective standards used in parenting plans for assessing the substance abuser’s ability to co-parent include: evaluation and treatment by a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, in-patient or out-patient treatment, random alcohol or drug testing at a licensed facility, regular attendance at twelve-step meetings, supervision of parenting time, and incremental parenting incentives for continued abstinence. These safeguards are typically phased out as recovery progresses, but may be re-instituted in the event of a relapse.
Emergency and Ex Parte Relief When One Parent is Abusing Opioids
Often times, a parenting plan in New Hampshire does not address addiction because it was filed and approved by the family division court years ago. In this circumstance, it is not uncommon for a parent to file a motion for ex parte relief, coupled with a petition to modify the parenting plan, in order to prevent immediate and irreparable harm to the child(ren) by the substance abuser. While litigation is never the preferred route, it is often the only necessary means to keep the child(ren) safe.
New Hampshire Child Custody and Family Law Lawyers Who Represent Parents in Divorce and Parenting Cases Involving Opioid Abuse
The T.W. Stevens Law Firm has offices in Portsmouth and Dover, New Hampshire. The child custody lawyers at the T.W. Stevens Law Firm have experience representing substance abusing and non-substance abusing parents in New Hampshire divorce and parenting actions. Contact us today.