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What happens when parents behave like Johnny Manziel?

About a year after checking himself into rehab for substance abuse, NFL rookie and notorious party animal Johnny Manziel is making headlines once again for his conduct off the field.

The Cleveland Browns first demoted and then released Manziel recently after a series of allegations of substance abuse and a domestic violence charge involving the quarterback's girlfriend. The case draws attention to the often intertwined issues of substance abuse and domestic violence, which become increasingly complex when there are children involved.

Putting children's best interests first

In Washington, as in every state throughout the nation, the main consideration in any decision affecting parenting rights and child custody is what is best for the child. This is known as the "best interest of the child" standard.

When a parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it has an effect on what the court determines the child's best interests to be. However, it does not necessarily mean that the parent will be barred from having contact with the child altogether. This is because it is usually considered beneficial for a child to have an ongoing relationship with both parents, even if the parents are no longer together.

Establishing necessary limitations

Of course, while family law judges try to preserve the relationship between parent and child, they also need to protect the child's physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. When a parent has a history of alcoholism or drug abuse, this often means placing certain restrictions on how and when that parent can have contact with the child.

For example, especially if the substance abuse issues are recent or ongoing, A Washington court may determine that the other parent should be the child's primary residential parent with sole decision making. Primary residential parent means that the child primarily resides or lives full-time with only one parent. Sole decision making authorizes one parent to be the primary decision-maker about important issues in the child's life, such as education, religious instruction and medical care.

Taking steps to keep kids safe and healthy

Even if one parent receives full physical and legal custody, the other parent usually can still spend time with the child during regular visitation periods. However, in cases involving chemical dependency, the court may require supervised visitation. If the parent's behavior is inappropriate during those visitation periods, they may be curtailed or discontinued. Additionally, the judge may order the parent to participate in drug or alcohol treatment as a condition of continuing to have contact with the child.

These restrictions will often be reflected in the parenting plan that is created as part of a divorce. Other times, if the substance abuse issues arise later, it may be necessary to go back to court to make modifications to an existing parenting plan. In certain cases involving severe issues of neglect, physical or sexual abuse, the court may determine that it is in the child's best interests to terminate the parental rights of the addicted individual.

As with any family law issue, it is important for anyone with questions about chemical dependency and its impact on parental rights and responsibilities in Washington to contact an attorney for individual advice based on their specific circumstances.

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