Representing the Substance Abuse Client In A Texas Family Law Case

November 1, 2007

If your client is suffering from a substance abuse problem in a Texas family law case, the best way to address the issues are to hit them head on.  It is likely that all your client’s conduct prior to the hearing will be brought to light by the opposing side.  It is therefore best to cushion the impact linked to the substance abuse by bringing them out yourself through your client.  You want the judge to hear the story first through your own client instead of through the opposing side.

The theme of your case should be that your client is taking responsibility and taking control of his or her life.  By breaking the bad news to the court about your client first, you are supporting this theme.  Hopefully your client has already seeking treatment by attending a substance abuse facility, a recovery group or therapy.  The best strategy is the use of all of these.

Before temporary orders, you should work with the substance abuse client in determining what his or her goals are.  You must keep these goals realistic in light of the fact that your client is already behind the proverbial eight ball because of the substance abuse.  For example, your client should realize that he or she is not likely to get primary conservatorship until he or she has been in sustained remission of his or her addictions and is availing themselves of substance abuse services.  However, you should not persuade your client to roll over and die either.  Careful requests on temporary orders will help your client position themselves for a final order hearing where several months have passed and much work has been put into treating their substance abuse issues.  These requests include:

  • Request the preservation of joint decision-making rights and duties;
  • Ask for extra time, over and above a Standard Possession Order;
  • Obtain orders that require the primary parent to keep the other parent in the loop as to school events, sports schedules, and appointments.  Require the other parent to include your client as to contact on any information sheets regarding the child, not simply the school or daycare emergency contact card;
  • Consider asking the court to appoint an amicus attorney to represent the interest of the child if you believe the child wants to have more contact with your client than the other parent will agree to provide.  Tex. Fam. Code 107.021.  The amicus attorney may be more responsive to the evidence that the parent with the substance abuse problem is seeking treatment and making significant changes in their behavior, lifestyle, and more specifically, in their interactions with the child;
  • Consider filing a motion for the judge to confer with the child pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code 153.009(b).  (Source: “Use It and Lose It- Substance Abuse Issues in Divorce by Lynn Kaiman).