Where Recovery & Family Law Intersect

What happens when you’re in a relationship and you’re unable to “be all you can be” because you’re sad, anxious, scared, lonely, depressed, angry, or just plain bored. You see images on social media of your friends and their families living their best lives. Everyone looks so happy and, well, damn near perfect. Meanwhile, you’re dying under the weight of expectation of a “happy family life.”  We know those cheerful, lighthearted and perfectly coordinated families doing TikTok dance videos do not exist. But that doesn’t stop us from wanting it. And when the pressures of life and family expectations get to be too much, you need something to take the edge off. Perhaps, a can or two of hard seltzer. Or, the pre-rolled joint from the marijuana dispensary found on every block. “Just a little something,” you tell yourself…to relax and unwind, or to help you fall asleep. Unfortunately, for some, continued use of alcohol, a legal drug (ex., marijuana), abusing prescription medication, or even “pandemic drinking” can lead to an alcohol or drug addiction. Addiction issues frequently pop up in family law cases because addiction ruins relationships. It is impossible to be a present parent or partner when you’re either “high” or thinking about the next drink.  

On the Akiona Law Podcast, experienced divorce attorneys, Ululani “Lani” Akiona and Jules Butler, discuss the strain addiction places on a family, and the challenges of dealing with addiction when child custody is at issue.  

Washington State .191 Restrictions

What are .191 restrictions in a Washington state parenting plan? Washington law (RCW 26.09.191, aka “.191 Restrictions”) requires the court to consider evidence of criminal acts, domestic violence, substance abuse, child abuse, neglect, and abandonment when entering a parenting plan. A parenting plan determines how much residential time or visitation each parent has with their children. It also determines who is allowed to make important decisions about the children’s school/education and health. 

When deciding a Washington state parenting plan, if a parent is abusing drugs or alcohol, the family law court can restrict or limit a parent’s time with their children. The court can also restrict or limit a parent’s ability to make decisions about their children. These restrictions or limitations on a person’s parenting time and their ability to participate in decisions about the children are called .191 restrictions.

Child Custody and Addiction 

If you are struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, it’s an uphill battle when dealing with the challenges of parenting and marriage. But imagine you made it to the top of that hill, and you have some “sober time” under your belt. Sadly, your marriage is an unfortunate casualty of that addiction and you’re going through a divorce. Or, your former partner wants to change your parenting plan because you relapsed during the pandemic. You broke no laws when you relapsed, or when you drank during your marriage, but your spouse uses your relapse or your past drinking in the family law court to argue for .191 restrictions and primary custody of the children. 

If you’re going through something like this in your child custody case, there are ways you can overcome .191 restrictions. Although, it may seem like your child custody lawyer is asking you a lot of personal questions about your drinking or drug history, an experienced divorce and family law attorney takes the time to learn about your addiction history. The goal is to discover how drugs and alcohol affected your role as a parent and as a spouse. Equally important is what are you doing right now for your sobriety? Are you in a treatment program? Are you attending recovery based meetings? How often are you attending meetings? How long have you been sober? Who is helping you to be accountable in your sobriety? Are you treating mental health issues with a licensed therapist, so you don’t have to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs? 

It’s best not to hide or downplay your substance abuse to the court. You want to be the person who tells the court the story about your addiction. The court understands we’re not perfect. We’re messy. We make mistakes. It takes courage, honesty, and humility to admit our mistakes and do something about them. Show the court and your co-parent you are proactive, committed, and dedicated to your recovery and sobriety. This will not only help you in family law court, but it will also help you be there for the people who need you the most…your children.  

Akiona Law, PLLC

At Akiona Law, PLLC, we are skilled in handling family law and divorce cases where alcohol or drug abuse are at issue, regardless of what stage of the addiction or court process you are in. Allow us to work through issues such as custody, spousal support, and property division so you can work towards building and living out the next chapter of your life. Contact us to schedule a consultation. 

If you are looking for information about substance abuse treatment, contact the U.S Dept of Health & Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Information about Alcoholic Anonymous can be found at aa.org. Information about Narcotics Anonymous can be found at na.org. Information about Marijuana Anonymous can be found at marijuana-anonymous.org. Information about Cocaine Anonymous can be found at ca.org

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