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Child's best interest trumps prior substance use

Family law attorneys say that parents are not automatically considered unfit to have custody of their children if they have histories of alcohol or drug abuse. New Jersey parents might be surprised that even records of spousal abuse, mental issues, joblessness and criminality do not always outweigh the child's best interest.

One divorce attorney in New York says that courts value the parent-child relationship and intend to build on it if possible. This sometimes means that the courts go beyond what the average person believes would be the correct result. They prefer to place special provisions on visitation and custody terms instead of denying access, such as not driving with the children, not seeing them without supervision or submitting to random drug tests.

Another attorney in New Jersey says that the primary focus of child custody cases is the child's best interest and safety. To the courts, this includes having time with both parents as long as both of them are fit to care for the child. Joint legal custody is awarded in most cases, but sole legal custody is awarded to only one parent when the other is deemed unfit or is imprisoned.

When there is a history of spousal abuse or mental issues, the parent could still be given visitation rights or some type of custody arrangement if that abuse has never been directed toward the child. However, the situation is closely monitored because those characteristics could be turned toward the child eventually. Even when a custody agreement is made, it can be modified when one or both of the parents' situations change or when circumstances change for the child.

In child custody cases that involve one parent with a history of substance abuse, joblessness or spousal abuse, a dispute will often arise. Both parents could contact separate family law attorneys for help in preparing their cases.

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