Substance Abuse Concerns in family Law Matters – Drug and Alcohol Testing

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When it comes to family law matters, especially parenting matters, there can often be concerns about one or both parents’ alcohol and drug use, both illicit and prescribed.

When deciding a family law parenting matter, the Court will look to what Orders are in the best interest of the child. The considerations the Court must take into account are changing as of 6 May 2024 and include what arrangements would promote the safety of the child and the capacity of each person proposed to have parental responsibility for the child.

If there is a concern that a parents’ alcohol and/or drug use will cause harm to a child, including impairing a parent’s capacity to provide for a child’s developmental, psychological, emotional or cultural needs, the Court will make Orders in attempt to alleviate those concerns which may include drug and alcohol testing, supervised time for that parent or no time if the concerns cannot be alleviated in any other way.

One way the Court can obtain evidence as to the degree of a parent’s alcohol or drug use, is to order a parent to undergo testing. The methods of testing include but are not limited to urine testing, CDT testing and hair follicle testing.

The Court may order the test as a one-off, multiple tests over a period of time, at the request of a party to the proceedings, commonly an Independent Children’s Lawyer or otherwise at the Court’s discretion.

Urine Testing

A urine drug test can detect the presence of a range of illicit substances and alcohol. Depending on where a person does the test, results may be produced instantly or the sample may need to be sent away to receive a formal report.

The benefit of a urine drug test is that results may be received faster, however the disadvantage to this type of test is that it may only produce a positive/negative result as opposed to numeric values.

Further, urine testing can only detect short time use of drugs and alcohol as certain drugs become undetectable within three days of use.

CDT testing

CDT testing, also known as Carbohydrate Deficient Transferrin testing, is completed through a blood test to test for alcohol consumption. This test can track a person’s consumption of alcohol over a prolonged period of time.

The disadvantage of this type of testing is that its effectiveness has been questioned due a person’s individual factors effecting results such as their BMI and smoking status. Further, testing is limited to alcohol consumption only.

Hair Follicle testing

Hair follicle testing can detect the presence of illicit substances, prescribed medications and alcohol. Hair follicle testing involves obtaining a sample of a person’s hair, usually of about 4cms in length and sending the sample away for testing. The hair utilised is normally head hair, but hair from other locations can also be used.

The benefit of this testing is that it can detect both drug and alcohol use for up to three to five months, depending on the hair utilised. Testing also provides a report with percentages which details the level of the drugs and alcohol tested.

The disadvantage of the hair follicle testing is that it is more expensive than the other testing methods and is only completed by certain companies.

If you have separated from your partner and would like advice regarding your parenting matter, please contact our firm to make an appointment with one of our family lawyers on (02) 4944 3322.

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