When the question of alcohol abuse arises, disagreements between divorced parents can become even more dismal because of the potential for the abusing parent to cause either intentional or unintentional harm to the child during visitation.
Removing visitation from an alcoholic parent and protecting your children from this dangerous scenario can be a tricky proposition. Parents have a recognized right to their court-ordered visitations, and they also have a legal right as adults over the age of 21 to consume alcohol, even in the presence of their children. Even after concerns have been raised, a judge presiding over the case will typically make efforts to restore visitation to the parent as soon as possible as long as that parent complies with stipulations that may include drug testing, supervision or completion of a treatment program.
To understand more about how to untangle the often-dangerous web the combination of alcohol and supervision of your children can weave here is what South Carolina law says on the matter.
Title 63 intent and purpose
According to the word of the law (SC section 63-7-10): “Any intervention by the State into family life on behalf of children must be guided by law, by strong philosophical underpinnings, and by sound professional standards for practice.” In other words, courts must have a compelling reason to intervene in the relationship of a parent and child.
However, the court also recognizes that it must “acknowledge the different intervention needs of families” and “establish an effective system of services throughout the State to safeguard the well-being and development of endangered children and to preserve and stabilize family life, whenever appropriate.”
Laws governing visitation
Visitation laws described under South Carolina section 63-15 make scant mention of alcohol concerns. In fact, the only provision made for alcohol consumption restrictions lies in section 63-15-50, where parents found to be guilty of domestic abuse will be subject to restrictions of the court that can include supervision and a requirement “to abstain from possession or consumption of alcohol or controlled substances during the visitation and for twenty-four hours preceding the visitation.”
The phrasing of this law creates a lot of leeway, but judges can “impose any other condition that is considered necessary to provide for the safety of the child, the victim of domestic violence, and any other household member.”
Because of this broad provision, it may be possible to file motions requesting for specific interventions by the judge on behalf of the children. Supervision can be ordered by a court-appointed party, exchange of children can occur in a public place, and a mandatory treatment program of the alcoholic parent may be imposed.
Visitation could even be suspended, but given a parent’s right to visitation under most circumstances, the suspension would likely be temporary during a review of the case facts or completion of the treatment program.
Domestic abuse and child endangerment related to alcohol
The element of child protection laws that may seem scary to parents is that the state can do little until an actual case of abuse, neglect or child endangerment is documented.
For instance, South Carolina Code Section 56-5 has multiple provisions where breaking the law with passengers under the age of 16 in the vehicle counts as child endangerment, including operating a motor vehicle under the influence. A parent would have to essentially catch the ex-spouse in the act of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence with the children inside to alert a police officer, who could then make an arrest.
Pursuant to Section 63-7-620, a police officer can similarly take a child into protective custody if the officer has “probable cause to believe that by reason of abuse or neglect, a child’s life, health, or physical safety is in substantial and imminent danger if the child is not taken into emergency protective custody.”
The officer can release the child into the custody of the other parent, notify the Department of Social Services and open a preliminary investigation into the nature of the situation. The child’s risk will be assessed, and a judge has the opportunity to order restrictions on visitation or elements such as a mandatory treatment plan if alcohol abuse is a relevant element to the case.
Fighting for your child’s safety can be hard but is not impossible
As indicated above, the court system makes every effort to follow due process and grant parents opportunities to visit their children.
If you have reason to be concerned about allowing a child to visit an alcoholic parent either before or after an incident occurs, you have a high probability of needing the help of an experienced attorney who can present the facts of the case and convince a judge to open inquiries before something horrible actually happens. Consult our knowledgeable family law attorneys to learn specifically how you can protect your children from harm during their visitation.