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Drug Rehab & Child Custody: Does Rehab Affect Custody?

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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Last Updated - 1/25/2021

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Updated 01/25/2021

People may worry about losing their children if they go to rehab. While this is understandable, the reality is that rehab will improve your parenting skills.

Many parents living with addiction may worry that going to rehab will mean losing their children. While this is an understandable concern, the reality is that regaining custody after drugs is entirely possible. In fact, with proper planning, it is possible to go to rehab without losing custody at all.

Custody and Substance Abuse Laws

Given the potentially harmful effects of parental substance abuse, there is a chance that addiction can have an impact on child custody decisions. For example, children of parents who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to suffer from abuse and neglect and more likely to be removed from their homes. Substance abuse can negatively affect parenting skills and lead to inadequate supervision and inability to meet basic needs, like food, clothing and shelter.

Ultimately, when a court or a child welfare organization makes decisions about child custody or placement, they must determine the child’s best interests. Certainly, if a parent is abusing drugs or alcohol and can’t care for their child, it would not be in the child’s best interests to remain in that situation. That being said, this does not mean that children will be permanently removed from parents who are abusing drugs.

State laws require reasonable efforts to provide parents with services to keep children with their families and return them to their families if they are removed temporarily. If you are involved with the child protective system and juvenile courts regarding your substance use, you will likely be given an opportunity to attend rehab so that your children can be safe with you moving forward.

Furthermore, because states must attempt to keep families together, your children will likely be placed with relatives or their other parent while you are in rehab. If the arrangement is made through Child Protective Services, it’s usually intended to be temporary, and your children can be returned to your home with evidence that you have successfully completed rehab.

Ultimately, rehab is seen as a positive choice for a parent who is living with an addiction. If Child Protective Services removes your children temporarily for addiction but you successfully complete treatment, it is likely they will be returned to your custody. In some cases, it’s possible to informally place your child with relatives or their other parent while you go to rehab, without the state taking custody from you. For example, if you have continued to meet your children’s needs throughout your addiction, the state might not become involved.

On the other hand, if you are actively involved in a custody battle with a former spouse or your child’s other parent, the domestic court may view your addiction negatively. Your former spouse may use your substance abuse as evidence that it isn’t in the children’s best interests to be in your care. Even so, seeking treatment is always to your benefit, as it will help you achieve a healthy, sober lifestyle so you can parent effectively. By completing rehab, you will have evidence that substance abuse will not place your children in danger.

Drug Rehab & Florida Custody Laws

All of the above applies to the state of Florida as well. The Florida Legislature supports using substance abuse treatment services to keep families intact and reunify children with their families if they have to be removed. If families become involved with child protection agencies in Florida, both the agency and the judge overseeing the case are likely to support parents who seek rehab.

What To Expect When Leaving for Rehab

If you are preparing to leave for inpatient rehab, you can expect some planning and preparation regardless of your situation. If you’ve decided to go to rehab and aren’t facing a court custody battle or involvement with child protective services, you will still need to plan where your children will stay. If you are married or live with your children’s other parent, the decision will likely be simple: the children can stay with their co-parent, and custody will not be a concern.

On the other hand, if you are a single parent, you may choose to place your children with a relative, such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle. If you decide to place them with relatives, it would be beneficial to grant the relatives power of attorney to make school-related decisions and take your children to the doctor while you are away for rehab. You’ll also want to contact your children’s schools and doctor, so they are aware.

If you’re involved with child protective services, they will likely ask you to name a relative who can care for the children while you go to rehab. If no relative is available, your child could temporarily be placed in foster care. Keep in mind, though, that even if your children are temporarily placed in someone else’s custody, the ultimate goal is to reunify them with you.

If you seek rehab for addiction, you will reduce the effects of substance abuse on your children and increase the likelihood they’ll be returned to you. Continuing to struggle with addiction without seeking treatment can increase the chance that your children will be removed from your care permanently.

Choosing to go to rehab can keep your family intact over the long-term, but it is important to make a plan to stay in touch with your children when you go to inpatient rehab. Look into each facility’s visitation policies as you decide where to go for rehab. Some rehab centers may allow children to visit on certain days of the week. It is also helpful to keep in touch with children by phone, so be sure to ask about your rehab center’s policies on phone calls.

Talking To Your Children About Substance Abuse Treatment

Before leaving for rehab, it is also important to have a discussion with your children. The specifics of the conversation may vary based on your children’s age and development, but you should inform them that you will be away for a period and that they will be loved and taken care of while you’re gone.

For a younger child, you may simply say, “Mom is sick and is going to go away for a while to get better, but Aunt Susan is going to take care of you while I am gone.” Older children may be able to understand and cope with greater detail, such as the fact that you are going to rehab for addiction. What matters most is informing your children as much as possible, given their age and emotional needs, so they know what to expect.

Some children may have difficulty coping with the change or with the stress of having a parent with an addiction. In this case, it may be helpful to arrange counseling services for your children. The National Association for Children of Addiction also provides resources, such as lists of relevant children’s books, support groups and helpful information for children.

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Regaining Custody After Drug Rehab

How you go about regaining custody after drug rehab will depend upon your circumstances. Suppose your children are placed with a relative via power of attorney or an informal arrangement. In that case, you have a right to retrieve your children and bring them home since custody doesn’t change with a power of attorney or informal process.

If you are involved with child protective services and/or the court system, you will have to demonstrate to the courts that you have completed treatment, have achieved sobriety and can care for the children’s best interests. There might be a period that begins with supervised visits with your children, then granted unsupervised overnight time before the children are fully transitioned back to your custody.

As has been demonstrated in Florida case law, you must take recovery seriously after you leave inpatient rehab. In the case of McLendon v. D’Amico, the father initially had supervised visits with his children. He then asked the court for unsupervised visits, which the court granted, because the father had been sober for three years, had a teaching job and was actively in recovery.

This means that if you go to rehab and show that you are sober, you are not likely to lose your child. To support your child’s best interests, it is important to stay active in recovery. This will likely mean continuing aftercare through support groups or outpatient counseling after completing inpatient rehab.

Finding Drug & Alcohol Treatment

If you are ready to seek substance abuse treatment but still have concerns about losing your children, remember that taking care of yourself and getting sober positively affects the whole family. You will improve your parenting skills and meet your children’s needs without the struggles that come with active addiction. Your children may temporarily be placed with someone else while you are in inpatient rehab, but if you complete treatment, your children will likely be returned to you.

At The Recovery Village, we know that taking time away from your children for rehab can be distressing. If you have questions about entering rehab and balancing your role as a parent, we are here to help. We offer inpatient and outpatient rehab and can develop a treatment plan that meets your needs. We will also help you to create an aftercare plan so that returning home and regaining care of your children after rehab goes as smoothly as possible. Give us a call today to discuss your treatment options.


If you go to rehab, will you lose your child?

Going to rehab does not mean permanently losing your child. In fact, you are more likely to lose your child if you continue to use drugs and alcohol since this can be harmful to children. Your children may have to stay with someone else while you complete inpatient rehab, but if you achieve sobriety and can care for your children, they are more likely to be returned to you.

Can a spouse take custody of your children while you are in rehab?

Relatives are usually the first choice for your children’s care if you go away to rehab. If you have a spouse living at home, you can arrange for the spouse to handle child care duties while you are away.

Can medical records for drug rehab be used in court custody?

A judge or attorney could request that records from drug rehab be presented to the court to help with child custody decisions; however, these records are likely to benefit you rather than harm you if you successfully complete treatment.

Will alcohol rehab enrollment help or harm me in a custody battle?

If you are struggling with alcohol addiction but seeking treatment, this is likely to benefit you. If you are addicted to alcohol but choose not to get rehab, the court may fear that your children will not be safe with you. On the other hand, if you show you are committed to recovery, the court will likely view this positively.

Should a child communicate with a non-custodial parent in rehab?

Attachment and bonding are an important part of childhood, so if a child has a relationship with a parent before rehab, it is probably in the child’s best interests for this relationship to continue. Every situation is different, but in general, a child will benefit from having visits and/or phone calls with a parent in rehab to maintain a connection and help the child realize the parent is okay.

View Sources

Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Parental substance use and the child welfare system.” October 2014. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Reasonable efforts to preserve or reunify families and achieve permanency for children.”  2019. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Department of Children and Families. “Chapter 39, Florida Statutes.” July 1, 2016. Accessed November 13, 2020.

Streets, Nydia. “Florida Child Custody: When Drug or Alcohol Addiction is an Issue.” Streets Law, April 23, 2019. Accessed November 13, 2020.