Applications made before the Family Court for Child Arrangement Orders, be it for contact or residence or any other order for that matter, are often bedevilled by allegations of domestic violence and/or alcohol and drug abuse, for which there are no easy fixes.
Allegations of alcohol abuse and contact
In relation to actual or alleged abuse of alcohol, it’s a familiar story – one parent objects to contact as the other is a “drinker”.
While it is not the law that a parent who drinks cannot see his/her child, it is probably the law that a parent unable to care adequately for his child by reason of intoxication should not be entrusted with such care.
Often the drinker is the father is said to be the drinker, but it is almost as likely to be the mother on occasion.
In the context of drug abuse, hair-strand testing is reliable evidence that a parent either is or is not consuming illicit drugs, but in the context of alcohol abuse, such testing does not reveal the amount of alcohol consumed.
While liver function tests may do so, unless the liver is permanently damaged by alcohol, they provide only a ‘snapshot’ of recent consumption, if any, only, and so how can such cases progress?
Often, in response to the allegation made by the mother, the father will say that he does not drink when with the child.
If anyone then such as CAFCASS are asked to report on contact at this stage, the court will frequently be told that the safety of the child cannot be guaranteed unless the father stops his drinking but the court is not told how this might be achieved, and in the meantime, there is the prospect of an indefinite suspension of contact or delay in putting contact arrangements in place.
The family court in some instances is now considering alternative ways and means to address the issue.
In particular, in appropriate cases, the Family Court has called upon the assistance of relatively cheap, portable, multi-use breath-test devices, as available from the high street, or online, which are intended to allow drivers who have had ‘one (or more) for the road’ to check whether they may legally drive.
The court in certain cases and in the experience of the writer have permitted the use of such breath testing devices before and after contact so as to allow the alleged drinker to prove his sobriety on collection and return of the child.
Such a device would, for example, allow the alleged drinker, returning his child or children to their mother say on a Sunday after staying contact, demonstrate (subject, of course, to his metabolism and the rate at which his body removes alcohol from the bloodstream) on the balance of probability that he has not been drinking heavily while the child or children have been in his sole care.
The family court has then in certain cases allowed for the use of such devices in cases where allegations of alcohol abuse have prevented the commencement of contact, or left it stuck in contact centres, and in virtually every case so far, where breath testing devices have been directed for, the use of the device has allowed contact to progress.
In many of these cases, the use of the device for six or nine or at most 12 months has then resulted in the mother accepting that the father really does not drink when the child is with him.
This development of trust in so sensitive an area often spreads beyond the immediate context and has resolved a significant number of previously ‘intractable’ contact cases.
There are already a number of family judges then at all levels making use of these cheap and reliable breath testing devices, and the writer more recently has first-hand experience of such a direction being used by a Family Judge sitting at Newcastle upon Tyne allowing then for contact to progress and so far the reports are that the contact is taking place without incident or issue.
Some of breath testing devices available are expensive and have many features available; some store sample data, while others provide a print-out, but even the cheapest devices on the market retail for approximately £30.00 and provide simple outcomes on a dial, or by illumination.
An ideal time for use is six months, but where the other parent is very wary, or the provision of samples mitigates other issues, use can be indefinite.
Where drug use is also alleged, control of the alcohol in this manner will often encourage a reluctant mother to allow contact, and even where hair-strand testing is beyond the parents’ means.
At Prism Family Law, we have experience of dealing with intractable contact cases concerning minor children. If for whatever reason contact is not taking place, then we have the expertise and know how to help find practical solutions to allow for contact to progress. If you find yourself in such a position get in touch – we deliberately offer to all potential client’s a free 30 minute consultation so that we can discuss your requirements and case.
Should you require the services of Prism Family Law for any family law related matter please do not hesitate to contact solicitor Andrew Wraith in the first instance. Prism Family deliberately offer free 30 minute initial consultations to all potential clients. You can call us on 0191 269 6871 or email us via [email protected]. You can also follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for the latest news and views on family law.