It is a simple fact that drug use takes place in our society, and when the user of drugs is a parent with responsibility for a child, it can create a number of ramifications for that parent, and dramatic changes for the child. As any family lawyers will tell you, family law places an emphasis on what is in the best interests of a child, and those interests most certainly do not involve being in the presence of a parent who is taking drugs.
If a court should be given an indication that the parent of a child is using illicit drugs then it will act. The way in which a court is informed of this is usually by someone close to the child filing either a ‘Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk of Family Violence’ or a ‘Notice of Risk.
Despite the long names, these are basically documents that someone completes when they believe a child may be at risk. Specifically, they would submit that the child is being exposed to drugs, for example, the parent or parents are taking the drugs in full view of the child.
This sort of allegation is taken very seriously by the court, and in the first instance, it will always seek to act in the best interests of the child. That being said it will not automatically take any allegation as absolute proof of wrongdoing by a parent without first ensuring that they are true.
To achieve this the court will order any parent named on a notice of risk to comply with the following:
- Ensure that they are not under the influence of illegal or illicit substances
- Undertake supervised and regular drug testing
- Undertake random drug testing
- Undertake a hair follicle test
A hair follicle test is just one of several different tests that a parent may be ordered to take. This particular test is often used where a parent has had a history of drug-taking but who may have undergone drug therapy or treatment where they now no longer take drugs. A hair follicle test is able to detect a person’s drug usage over a period of time and can even specify what sort of drugs they were taking.
One downside of hair follicle tests is that they are extremely expensive, and as it may be the individual parent who is ordered to pay the cost, if they cannot afford it, an alternative test may be sanctioned. In most cases, this will be a urine test, which can be done randomly or at regular intervals.
One downside of urine tests is that they do not have the same ability to detect drug use over a period of time in the same way a hair follicle test can, so they are not always the most appropriate test in certain circumstances.
if a parent is found to have been using illicit drugs, and this is deemed to put their child at risk, the court will take action. For example, instead of normal visitation, they may order that supervised visitation is imposed until such times as the parent can prove they no longer take drugs.
Alternatively, if the child lives with the parent, the order may be that they live with the other parent, or with a relative, again, until such times as the drug use stops. It may also order any parent found to be using drugs to enter a rehabilitation program before any alteration of the order can be considered.