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Co-Parenting with an Alcoholic

child law advice

Navigating the Storm: Co-Parenting with an Alcoholic

Welcome to our blog dedicated to the courageous individuals navigating the intricate journey of co-parenting with a partner struggling with alcoholism. Balancing the needs of your children with the challenges of addiction is undoubtedly tough, but you are not alone. In this blog, we share advice and resources to guide you through this complex journey and help you build a healthier co-parenting dynamic.

When alcohol abuse plays a role in family dissolution, it can be especially problematic when children are involved, and decisions need to be made about child arrangements. It is not uncommon for someone who struggles with this problem to deny it altogether, particularly if they worry they may not be able to see their children. As this is going on, the other parent will be concerned for their children’s safety while they are in the care of their ex-partner.

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic and potentially severe condition characterised by an individuals’ inability to control or stop their drinking despite the adverse consequences. Alcoholism involves a range of symptoms and behaviours that indicate problematic drinking patterns. Here are some of the key features of alcoholism that you should keep an eye out for if you are concerned for someone’s wellbeing:

  • Loss of control: individuals with alcoholism often find it challenging to limit the amount they drink. Once they start, they may be unable to stop, even if they want to.
  • Tolerance: overtime, said individuals may develop a much higher tolerance, meaning that they need to consume large volumes of alcohol in order to achieve the same effects
  • Physical dependence: Alcoholism often involves the development of physical dependence on alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, anxiety, nausea and insomnia, may occur when alcohol intake is reduced or stopped.
  • Continued use despite consequences: individuals with alcoholism continue to drink despite experiencing negative consequences in various areas of their lives: this being at work, in relationships, overall health or legal issues.
  • Neglect of Responsibilities: Prioritising alcohol use over responsibilities at home, with children and at work is common among those struggling with alcoholism.

The effects of parents with alcohol dependency on children

Many parents in the UK struggle with alcoholism. Statistics show that 478,000 children were living with a parent who had a problem with alcohol or drug use in 2019 and 2020, according to date on childhood vulnerability from the Children’s Commissioner for England. This equates to 40 cases per 1,000 children.

Substance abuse by parents puts the child at danger in numerous ways when it comes to child arrangements. According to research, parents who struggle with alcohol abuse have less ability to parent. This has a significant role in instances of child neglect.

Ensuring a child’s best interests:

Should substantial concerns be brought up regarding a parent’s alcohol intake, the court has the authority to mandate a CAFCASS report. In addition to independently advising the court on matters that are safe and in the best interests of the children, CAFCASS’s sole purpose is to advocate for and represent the interests of children.

The issue of concern for any court looking at the arrangements for children in these situations is not necessarily whether a parent uses and abuses alcohol, but rather if there are any risks posed to the children in their care.

If alcohol is demonstrated to be a problem a the judge may decide to only permit that parent to visit their children under certain restrictions, such as a Specific Issue Order requiring the maintenance of particular safety measures. These precautions might consist of the following, among others:

  • Another responsible adult being present to ensure the children are safe.
  • Allowing indirect contact time only to be spent only via phone or video calls.
  • Allowing time to be spent in a public venue where alcohol is less likely to be consumed.
  • Arranging for a responsible adult to pick up and drop off the children to reduce the chance of the parent driving the children while under the influence of alcohol.

You must continue to provide a safe haven for your children to return to – yourself and your home. Children, as we know, thrive on routine, and when alcoholism is added into the mix, it frequently results in a dysfunctional lifestyle. Remember that when your child is under your care, you should maintain a routine that they know they can rely on; this will help them feel secure and confident. It is important to let your children express their emotions honestly. Remind them that they may come to you with any worries they may have, and that you will always welcome this with open arms.

Alcohol Testing:

If your former partner is not accepting that they have a problem regarding alcoholism, you could request that they undergo alcohol testing. There is potential for you to agree this privately between yourselves but should this not be successful you can request a court to order an alcohol test as part of an application for the court to look at your children’s living arrangements.

While testing cannot be mandated by the court for your ex-partner. If they decline, the judge may infer negatively from their refusal and assume they have something to hide, which may harm their case and options to see their children.

The testing itself can take place in a multitude of ways:

  • A blood test – this will reveal whether excessive alcohol consumption has damaged the liver and can reveal certain blood markers that will be elevated if excessive alcohol consumption has occurred. The most accurate blood marker is Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) as it can only be produced if alcohol has been consumed.
  • A urine test – this will display recent alcohol consumption only and may not reveal if the person undergoing the test has potentially abstained from alcohol with the knowledge that their test was upcoming; but this can be used in combination with other methods of testing.
  • A method of hair strand testing is also commonly used. The analysis of hair displays the results of alcohol consumption for up to 12 months, although external factors such as hair dye, hairspray etc may affect the validity of the test. For someone who does have sufficient body hair for hair analysis, nail analysis on the other hand provides an analysis for just 6 months.

How can we help:

As a parent, it is imperative to create an arrangement that will benefit the family as a whole. When you seek the advice of family lawyers, like ourselves, we can assist you in reaching a resolution that will ensure both the children’s safety and successful co-parenting strategies. If you find yourself in a situation where you have been accused or have issues with alcohol misuse, it is important that you too seek legal advice.

Alcohol Support Organisations:

Alcoholics Anonymous


For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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