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Ask an Expert: Can I Get Custody of My Daughter While I'm on Methadone?

By Steven W Varney JD 03/22/16

How does a parent's reliance on medication-assisted treatment such as methadone affect child custody decisions?

Ask an Expert: Can I Get Child Custody While On Methadone?

My daughter has lived with her dad since she was five, due to my addiction. Now her dad has lost her to the state because of his heroin use. She is living with her father's new wife who has custody of her. My question is: can I be on methadone maintenance and get custody of my daughter? We live in Louisiana and I'm not sure of the law here. Any information will help. Thank you.

First of all, congratulations on being in a methadone program. Your question is a very good one, and the answer depends on many different factors.

Your active participation in such a program by itself should not disqualify you from seeking custody. However, each state is different, and you will want to discuss this with a local lawyer.

Custody and visitation decisions in the U.S. usually are based upon a legal principle called “best interests of the child.” Simply put, judges consider all the facts of a case, apply the particular law of that state, and decide what they believe is best for the child. How each state defines “best interests” can be different. These cases usually happen in family court or in juvenile court, depending on the circumstances. If the state has stepped in (as may have previously happened in your case) and brought a “Child in Need of Care” (CINC) petition (we call them “Abuse or Neglect” cases here in Connecticut), that matter was probably heard in juvenile court.

If a mom seeks temporary custody in family court because dad has an active substance abuse problem, all other things being equal, mom probably stands a good chance of prevailing. But what if mom and dad both have issues and the state has stepped in because of concerns about the welfare of the child? What if one parent has some clean time and the other does not? What if one or both are in programs? Another important factor is the custody history of the child. Has either parent already had their parental rights terminated? If so, that could be a bar to that parent seeking custody in the future.

Your daughter’s own opinions will probably play a role, too. Courts often listen to children in custody cases, and depending on the child’s age, a judge may certainly consider his or her feelings and desires.

I would encourage you to contact the local bar association or legal services organization in your area if you are not able to afford to hire a lawyer. They can be excellent sources of help and information.

Steven W. Varney, J.D. is a legal consultant ( and former Connecticut trial lawyer in long-term recovery. Full Bio.

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