The knee-jerk argument that a parent has a “constitutional right” to drink alcohol seems to appear on my event horizon about once every other month. Most commonly, this is an affirmative assertion heard from opposing party as part of a custodial dispute.
As of today’s date, alcohol is legally obtainable and legally ingested by many people in our country. Many of them are parents who drink moderately and who have never harmed their children as a result of imbibing. Ironically, the moderate drinkers are often the first ones to volunteer to give up drinking if that’s what it takes to make the court, or the mediator, or the other side, happy.
Today, in this column, I am talking about the hardened drinkers, those who drink to excess and deem it their “right” to do so, regardless of the effect this habit – this addiction – has on the people around them. Adults may choose to stay around them or not; children don’t have a choice. But they need not be trapped in an abusive situation.
On August 5, 2015, in In Re Joshua A., the 1st Appellate Division of the California Court of Appeal, 4th District, upheld a lower court’s ruling which took a child trapped in just such a circumstance from the child’s mom and placed that child in foster care. Mom wasn’t always a bad mom; but she was bad when she drank alcohol, and she wouldn’t stop drinking.
The facts of the case indicate that Mom had a history of scratching and pinching her child whenever she got drunk. Of course, the court used the term “intoxicated.” Health & Human Services (aka CPS) had been notified of such abusive behavior on seven prior occasions and investigated each one. At one point, the child was taken from Mom but she was given reunification services, appeared to gain some sobriety, and the child was returned to her.
Alas, she didn’t learn. And her behavior escalated to further physical abuse of her child whenever she was intoxicated. And now she’s lost her child yet again. The child, now a 13-year-old boy, has been placed with a “non-relative extended family member.”
Based on my own experience with litigants who cherish their state of perennial intoxication, I have no doubt Mom told her “free attorney” that she had a “constitutional right” to drink alcohol. And so she does. However, her child also has a more pressing constitutional right to safety, defined as freedom from harm, in his own home.
In my time in the courts, and in my life experience, I have never seen alcohol, or any other addictive substance, make anyone’s life better. But I’ve seen it destroy families and permanently damage children, both physically and emotionally.
Don’t just “Think before you drink.” Think about YOUR CHILD before you drink.