This is a difficult issue to address without knowing the reasons behind the concerns and how the suspicion has arisen. If there is evidence in support of the suspicion, or the children are already being affected by a parent’s alcohol consumption, the issue needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. If you have found yourself think ‘my ex is drinking too much’ this article is well worth reading.
Excessive alcohol consumption is also often linked to violence and domestic abuse which are dangerous and damaging for children to become caught up in.
It is OK for a parent to enjoy a couple drinks with their meal or at a family party for example. Parents need to remember, however, that alcohol affects different people in different ways and need to have an awareness as to how alcohol affects them personally. For example, one person may have a couple of alcoholic drinks at a family BBQ and it does not affect their behaviour or awareness in anyway. Another person may consume the same amount of alcohol and become sleepy which could pose a risk to younger children if left unsupervised, or become louder, agitated or start to use bad language, all of which would be upsetting for children.
I think my ex is drinking too much but how much is too much?
There are no specific laws or guidelines as to how much is too much and common sense must prevail. Moderation is the key and ensuring that as a parent, you are in control and able to care for children without putting their safety at risk. A parent should always be alert to any potential risks to children and ensure that in the event any child was about to, or had hurt themselves, they can act as quickly and appropriately as possible. Consuming alcohol to excess can delay reaction times, can make people drowsy or sleep deeper which can put children’s safety at risk. Excessive alcohol consumption is also often linked to violence and domestic abuse which are dangerous and damaging for children to become caught up in.
If you have a relatively amicable relationship with your ex-partner, it could be a good idea to broach this subject in a sensitive way, when the children are not present of course. This would enable you to ascertain further information, voice your concerns and potentially put your mind at ease. This does of course require the other parent to be open and honest about their alcohol consumption. If there is an acceptance on their part that they do consume alcohol, a short-term solution could be that the children no longer stay overnight until the issues have been addressed. There could be an agreement that alcohol will not be consumed prior to or during contact and contact could take place at a children’s play area or swimming pool for example, where the temptation of alcohol is not there.
Safeguarding your children
In situations where it isn’t possible to have these frank discussions with the other parent or there is an obvious denial, you must ensure that you safeguard your children if you believe they are at risk of harm. This does not necessarily mean to prevent the children from seeing the other parent as this can also be emotionally damaging for them, but to have appropriate safeguarding in place. This could be, for example, having another family member to supervise to ensure that the other party has not consumed alcohol prior to contact and does not do so during contact.
If the children are overnight with the other parent and you are led to believe that the other parent is intoxicated and placing the children at risk of harm, for example one of the children contacts you by telephone upset, you should make arrangements to collect the children. If this is not welcomed by the other parent and they become abusive or refuse you entry, the police can be contacted to carry out a welfare check. It is extremely important to note however that this is only in emergency situations and is not to beused as a means of ‘checking up’ on parents without good grounds to do so.
If the other parent does not accept the concerns raised and therefore does not agree to any reduction in contact with the children, an application to the court may be necessary to ensure that the concerns are fully investigated and the appropriate level of contact is taking place.
If drinking alcohol to excess is raised during the course of court proceedings, the court can order that testing is carried out which will be followed with a report setting out whether the results are consistent with excessive alcohol consumption. In the event that tests show excessive/ chronic alcohol consumption, the court may wish to see further testing in say 3 months time as evidence that the issue is being addressed. In the meantime, contact may be restricted to visiting contact as opposed to overnight and possibly supervised, depending on the seriousness of the concerns.
Postscript. Help for friends and family of alcoholics Al-anon
If you want to talk things through with a solicitor, check here.
Heather Broadfield contributed to ‘Separating With Children 101’ 3rd edition, (Bath Publishing, 2023)