Co-parenting with an addict

Having a child is life-changing. When your child is born, you know that your life will never be the same again. When you became a parent you fully accepted that you would make sacrifices in order to provide your child the best life possible.

Many divorcing parents are able to put their child first and focus their priority on making sure the process has as little negative impact on the child as possible. Problems arise however when one or both parents are not able to prioritize their child due to addiction.

If you divorced and your co-parent has an addiction, you may perceive that he or she places the addiction or substance over a commitment to the family. Sadly, according to data collected between 2009 and 2014 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 1 in 8 children aged 17 or younger live in a house with at least one parent who is struggling with addiction. As the non-addicted parent, you probably see the situation for what it is and want to be proactive.

It is a significant challenge to co-parent with someone with an addiction. It becomes impossible when the addiction begins to put other lives in danger, especially when it involves your children. For many non-addicted parents, it is going to require professional help. Mental health and substance abuse experts may be able to help assess the level of addiction and provide recovery help to the addictive parent. 

If your spouse is trying to attain sobriety and experts have determined that they pose no safety risk, it is important to develop a parenting agreement with the assistance of a family lawyer. If your partner agrees to the terms in an official parenting agreement but has trouble following through, you may not only have legal grounds to take action to protect the safety of your children, but may also need to take action to avoid being labeled as an enabling parent who fails to protect his or her children.

Parental agreements dealing with addiction often contain:

  • Safe living arrangements and parenting time provisions
  • Commitment to joint decision making on significant matters if possible, or sole decision-making if joint decision-making is impossible
  • A strict commitment to a parenting schedule
  • Supervised parenting time either by a friend, family member or professional
  • Geographical restrictions
  • Documented concerns regarding addiction and a request to abstain before or during parenting time
  • Drug or alcohol testing by the addicted parent either on a random basis or even as frequent as before, during and after parenting time
  • A termination or pause of parenting time if alcohol or drug use is confirmed
  • A safety plan for the children
  • In Colorado, the appointment of a Decision Maker or Arbitrator who can promptly alter the parenting schedule if a parent has a relapse
  • Provisions for the children to attend therapy to assist them with what it means to have an alcoholic or substance-addicted parent.

Although this process of co-parenting with an addict can leave you feeling desperate, there are resources and people who can help. You may not see it now, but you personally may need assistance to deal with your ex-spouse’s addiction. With proper self-care, you can better monitor your children’s situation and give them greater stability.

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