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Alcohol Abuse Increase During COVID-19 & Its Impact On Child Custody


At least 50 percent of all students in the US (K through 12) are currently being homeschooled due to COVID-19, which typically requires that, for certain ages, a parent supervise their education throughout the day. Meanwhile, many of these parents are simultaneously trying to keep up with their own jobs while working from home.  As a result, stress, domestic violence, and substance abuse has increased for a number of Florida families, and when substance abuse affects divorced parents, it can also affect child custody and visitation.

Statistics indicate that alcohol purchases went up more than 50 percent during the pandemic, all while those who already suffered from substance abuse issues also lost access to important resources to help them stay sober, such as access to AA meetings. As a result, once that COVID began, more and more court-ordered programs started using SL2 Devices (remote breath testers with built-in cameras used in child custody cases where alcohol is an issue), and alcohol abuse began to have an even greater impact on child custody decisions.

When Does It Technically Become Alcohol Abuse?

Still, it is important to note when, exactly, alcohol use is considered to be a problem (legally) for parents involved in custody situations. THE DSM V defines Alcohol Use Disorder as a problematic pattern of alcohol use that leads to clinically significant distress or impairment, as manifested by any of two of the following:

  • Cravings or strong desire to use the substance
  • Continuing to use the substance in spite of it causing or exacerbating interpersonal and/or social problems
  • Giving up important occupational, recreational, or social activities due to the abuse
  • Taking the substance in larger amounts over a longer period of time than intended
  • Continuous failed attempts to control or cut down on the substance
  • Going to significant efforts to obtain and/or recover from abusing the substance
  • An inability to fulfill major obligations at work, in the home, with one’s family, etc. due to recurrent substance abuse
  • Use in situations where it becomes physically hazardous
  • Tolerance that is defined by needing to have more of the substance in order to achieve the desired effect or experiencing a markedly diminishing effect by consuming the same amount
  • Withdrawal that is manifested by going through withdrawal syndrome or having to take that substance or a closely related one in order to avoid going through withdrawal symptoms

Access to Substance Abuse Records for Custody Proceedings

Parents who have substance abuse issues and who have gone to recovery clinics or doctors to obtain help are entitled to certain protections under confidentiality and HIPAA’s privacy rules in terms of the other parent gaining access to their medical records in order to demonstrate to the court that their substance abuse issue should be used in making child custody decisions. However, Florida also looks to the best interests of the child in order to determine child custody and visitation decisions, and information related to alcohol abuse by one parent could very well be relevant to this determination. This inevitably sets up a challenge for Florida courts, which have to determine if gaining access to private information regarding a parent’s substance abuse is absolutely necessary in order to protect the best interests of the child, or if there is another way to conduct this evaluation. In a number of cases involving substance abuse, current allegations or evidence is what is relevant as opposed to the past, and, as a result, the timing of the records is relevant to this decision, as well as perhaps monitoring the parent in the now for substance abuse using a device such as the SL2 as opposed to potentially violating their rights by setting aside medical privilege and obtaining records from the past.

If You Have Any Questions or Concerns About Child Custody & Substance Abuse, Contact Florida Child Custody Attorney William Wallshein

If you have any questions or concerns about substance abuse, child custody, and any other family law issue in Florida, contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein. With more than three decades of experience serving families in Florida, we are prepared to provide you with the help you need.







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