Guided by the “best interest of the child” standard, the first priority of the family court in all jurisdictions is the protection of the welfare of children. For this reason, most jurisdictions conduct investigations into the backgrounds and lifestyles of parents battling for custody. Many jurisdictions now mandate drug and alcohol tests to determine if the petitioner for custody has a problem with substance addictions and abuse.
While judges do not want to separate parents from their children, courts cannot tolerate parents who are incapable of caring for a child adequately because of alcoholism, and courts intervene to protect the child.
The impact of alcoholism in American family life is staggering. Some 14 million Americans “meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse. One in four children under the age of 18 is exposed to alcohol abuse or dependence in the family.” In one year, according to the Judicial Council of California, “half of the judges interviewed said that alcoholism was introduced as a factor in child custody cases ‘often’ or in more than 50 percent of their cases during the 2006 calendar year.”
Recognizing the severity of alcoholism and child custody matters, some jurisdictions specify alcohol abuse as a factor in determining custody; others give the judges discretionary power to deal with each case on an individual basis and rely on loose interpretations of laws.
In the face of this, some states, including California, use a variety of measures to determine the impact of alcohol on the family. These include blood tests, alcohol related arrests and convictions (including DUIs), arrests for drunkenness and fights, and psychiatric evaluations.