If you’ve been convicted of a DUI, you may be facing more consequences than just a criminal record and legal fees. And some of these consequences could be particularly devastating. If you are currently in a child custody battle, for example, a DUI conviction could seriously—and negatively—impact the outcome of your case. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how a DUI will impact your custody case. As with most legal issues, the devil is in the details. Penalties and other consequences will depend on the unique circumstances surrounding your case.
The details of your arrest
If your child was in the car at the time of the incident and it’s your second DUI, to give one example, the arrest will likely have a serious impact on your custody case. Although penalties vary from state to state, most states will elevate such an egregious offense to a felony charge. On the other hand, if it’s your first DUI, you have no criminal record, and you are the primary caregiver, the damage may not be quite as severe. With skilled legal counsel, you may be able to get off with a misdemeanor charge and little to no jail time. Your custody case could still be on the line, however.
In a DUI case, there are simply no guarantees. Even first-time offenses can have serious repercussions when it comes to child custody. According to Beth Maultsby, an attorney with Dallas-based GoransonBain Ausley, the negative impact on a parent receiving a DUI in a child custody case will most likely be significant, if not devastating.
"Receiving a DUI will immediately raise concerns about the safety of the child in your possession and your ability to properly parent the child with not only the other parent but also with any mental health professionals involved and the Judge,” Maultsby says. “The degree of the negative impact will depend on many factors such as whether you have a history of substance abuse and/or whether a child was in your possession at the time of the DUI. To minimize the negative impact, it’s important to accept responsibility for your actions, obtain professional help and agree not to consume alcohol while in possession of your child.”
One thing is for certain: the court does not take kindly to parents who drive drunk with a child in the car, and such a situation can become especially complicated when a child custody case is involved. Case in point, New York’s “Leandra’s Law,” also known as the Child Passenger Protection Act, was signed into law in 2009. Leandra’s Law makes it a felony offense to drive under the influence with a passenger age 15 or younger. This is even true of first-time offenders.
Having a felony conviction on your record is certain to have a negative impact on your custody case. According to the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, “Parents, guardians, custodians and others who are legally responsible for a child, and are charged with a driving while intoxicated or impaired by drugs while that child is a passenger in the vehicle, are reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment by the arresting agency.”
If you are charged with DUI during a child custody case, a court-appointed social worker may be assigned to analyze your daily routine and habits. The social worker may also conduct searches of your home and vehicle for evidence of alcohol and drugs and may even search your credit card statements and receipts looking for the purchase of alcohol. These visits may be announced or unannounced and may occur at your home or work or at your child’s school.
A potential substance abuse problem
In the eyes of the court, a DUI, past or present, may indicate a substance abuse problem, which can put the safety and well-being of children at risk. As such, any type of alcohol or drug-related arrest can be very damaging to a child custody case. This is true even if no child was present at the time of the arrest. At the very least, you will be subjected to random drug testing to ensure that substance abuse is not putting your children in harm’s way. Depending on the circumstances, you could even lose parental rights.
If you’ve been charged with DUI and you’re concerned about how it will impact your child custody case, an experienced DUI attorney can help. This is not a matter you should attempt to handle on your own.