Illegal Drugs - How much is too much?

Question

My son’s ex girlfriend has admitted taking cocaine a few months ago. She has custody of his 2 year old son and we are so worried he has gone to court for custody and the judge has requested a hair strand test for cocaine, methadone and cannabis. My question is: How much cocaine or other drugs has to be detected before the courts feel he is at risk? I know she has stopped taken them now but will continue once the court is over!

Answer

The hair strand testing will give an indication of the level of drug use that has taken place in the past. It will not show the Court the precise amount used as there are many variables but in general it will show whether:

• There has been ‘one off’ use of an illegal drug;

• any illegal drug use has been compatible with ‘social’ use i.e. now and then. The sort of use that is compatible with occasional use at parties/night clubs etc.;

• more frequent use compatible with regular intake (in the region of weekly); and

• high use compatible with very regular intake.

They sometimes can also tell whether some drugs (in particular cocaine) have been used in conjunction with alcohol (as a particular substance is produced when they are taken at about the same time). This can be useful, because if you have low use at the same time as alcohol, it tells the Court that it is very likely to be ‘social’ use e.g. at a night club etc. If you have high use in conjunction with alcohol, it might indicate that there are many problems, including alcohol abuse.

‘Social’ drug use is relatively common, with about 9% of the population using some illegal drug in the last year, according to the latest Home Office figures. The Family Courts probably see a higher proportion because often family cases involve issues around drug use.

Obviously, much will depend upon the level of drug use.

The Court will not ‘approve’ of occasional social use but my experience is that such use would be very unlikely to give rise to a parent being declared unsuitable to look after a child unless it could be shown that there were other substantial difficulties with the way in which that child is being cared for, whether those difficulties are brought about by the drug use or because of other factors. If the level of drug use is high, the court is much more likely to look at other options for the care of the child, including an alternative parent.

However, what you have to bear in mind is that ultimately the decision depends on the Court’s assessment of the overall welfare of the child. One of the factors that will weigh heavily with the Court will be with whom the child has been living up to now. If the child has lived primarily with the mother since birth, the situation must be shown to be serious before the court will transfer residence to another parent. The Court will take into account all of the things in the
Welfare Checklist, not just the drug test results.

So, it is important to look at the whole situation. It may be that the mother has admitted occasional drug use but if the relationship between her and the child is good and the child is well cared for, some low level of drug use will in reality likely to be tolerated by the court. On the other hand, if there is evidence that the care of the child has suffered, the court is more likely to be persuaded that the child would be better off living with the other parent, assuming that the court is satisfied that the other parent will meet the child’s needs.

Social drug use may however be a good reason for the child to spend more time with his father. For example if mum likes going out every Saturday partying, where she is most likely to have the opportunity to take drugs, that may be a good reason why the child should be with dad for some or all of the weekend. Also, it can be argued that where there are doubts about one parent it is a good idea for the other parent to have plenty of care of the child because that way they can keep an eye on the child’s welfare. The important thing is that any care arrangement operates to ensure that the child’s needs are met, not those of the parents.

I know that is not a definitive answer, because there is not one, but hopefully you get the idea.
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Drugs, Contact and Mediation

Question by CC:

The Question:

My ex partner who I lived with for several years and I have broken up.

I left him in January 2013 as he looked after our 9 month old son stoned on cannabis. He has a 20 year plus history with drugs, got thrown out of home at 16 etc I could go on, but when he met me he tried to turn his life around and at the time believed him. But not anymore. Our child is now 17 months. He was stoned from the moment I was pregnant till I left, 18 months in total, always sorry always saying it would stop, he saw a doctor, got patches, saw a hypnotist twice, typical addict behaviour. He is in denial of his addiction. Eventually pushed he went to an addiction group in February 2013 which he has been attending on and off since then, he lies, is sneaky, can't be trusted, hostile, insular, anti social, edgy mostly.

I went back in March 2013 to try again as I didn't want a broken family but left in July 2013 for good as could not seeing the relationship working out and wanted a better life for myself and my son.

He is now taking me to court as he is denial of my concerns and addiction and can't be trusted, I'm allowing access (
contact) but won't allow him to take our son to his house for fortnightly weekend access as I have strong concerns re his responsibility and addiction as he stops and starts a lot and am concerned for my sons welfare. I want him to do a hair test to show he's ok. He will only do this if the judge tells him to but not because I've asked him too he has told me and thinks I will grant access in the pre court mediation next month.

I want him to be in our sons life and for us to both be positive role models and friends for our sons sake.

He is addicted, he smokes daily , was putting himself in dangerous situations all the time i.e. he would drive a heavy goods van under the influence, go up ladders, drive his motorbike etc. always stating things like but I never crashed, or got stopped etc. I especially think he has gone back to it even more now I've left.

I was going to represent myself but am now seeing a solicitor this week to do that, I have tried to reason with outside of court and say this will be no good for any of us but he is impossible to deal with.

Any advice?

The Answer:

The first thing to say is that mediation cannot impose any form of agreement on you or him. That is not to say it is pointless, and the mediator will help both of you express the concerns each of you have and will see if any agreement can be reached. However, if you do not agree, the mediator cannot impose or force either of you into a certain course of action.

If you cannot agree anything in mediation, the matter will go to court.

My approach would be to put down in writing your concerns as clearly as possible as soon as possible in a statement for the court. I write another website called
www.mfjc.co.uk which is for the Merseyside and Cheshire Area. In our area we are trying a scheme whereby people file statement very early on and there is a template. If you click on this link here you can download the template from that website. It sets out headings for the sort of things the court wants to know when people make applications for contact, and helps people put them in order. You may find it helpful. If you are getting a solicitor it may be helpful to fill it in and give it to them so they can turn it into a statement for the court you may be going to.

The important things it to make clear not only what your assertions are about him using drugs but also what
effect that has and what you contend the risks are. Some specific examples, if you have some, of things that have happened in the past would be helpful. I emphasis this because drug use is so endemic in society that the important point is not necessarily that someone is using drugs (many parents do recreationally and still adequately parent children) but the fact that the drug use has a negative effect on a parent’s ability to safely care for a child (see for example the NSPCC website here.)

In relation to drug testing the court can order that, however it costs money and
usually the Court will order that the cost is shared between both parties, now that legal aid has gone. The more drugs you test for, the more money it costs. The further back you go in time, the more money it costs. It can be ‘segmented’ on a monthly basis (to see if consumption has increased or reduced) but again, this involves an extra charge. As a very rough guide one test for the 5 most popular illegal drugs, for six months (unsegmented) costs in the region of £500 (i.e. £250 each parent), although this may vary considerably.

For that reason it is very important to be clear about what you want him to be tested for. If he denies use or seriously underplays the amount he uses, you
may be able to argue that he should pay all the cost if it turns out that he was lying - but I would not bank on it.

You describe a serious problem on his part. For that reason it may be worth asking the court to order him to provide his medical records and details of his attendance and engagement at the addiction group you refer to (i.e. a report from them).

You have acted appropriately. Allowing him some contact but making sure it is safe is much better than letting him have no contact at all.
From what you have said I suspect a court will be slow to entrust him with the care of your 17 months old son for extended periods without him first dealing with his difficulties.


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Slow progress with contact application...

Question asked by Anon:

The Question:

I have spent nearly two years fighting to have a meaningful relationship with my daughter. I have always supported her financially.

My name was not put on the birth certificate I have no
Parental Responsibility, I filed all my c1 and c100 form and found myself going to court on at least 6 occasion now, and have a really bad experience. I am not without fault I did a stupid thing and on the odd occasion I took cocaine on a stag do, although this is very rare and I have not taken any for over 13 m when my hair was tested it still had very small traces of this drug in my hair, just above the cut-off point. I have never had any drug conviction or alcohol related issues ever. I really do not know why it’s still positive other than things I have read which state substance can stay in your body for up to 18 months there are some valid reasons i.e. I've antibiotic in the last 6 months.

But now my Cafcass report says they recommend I only see my daughter at a contact centre. I have a good job I am customer facing own my own house and brought my 23 year old son up on my own for 11 years.

Also my contact report in which I had to have 6 sessions with my daughter was glowing. Mum keeps our daughter locked away with not much contact with anyone so she now cannot leave her mum’s side.

The Answer:

This is a difficult if common situation and there are a number of related issues.

First, I understand your frustration at the slow way in which family proceedings sometimes progress and it becomes even more frustrating when it feels like everyone in the system is against you.

There are two factors at play here. One is the drug test result and the other is the Cafcass recommendation. They will be linked.

It might be best to start first with the Cafcass recommendation. You tell me that it recommends supervised contact in a contact centre. Such facilities are in short supply and it is unlikely that the recommendation will be a long term one. You should see it as a steppingstone to more natural contact as the contact centre will only be available for a time limited period. It is in fact almost always a sign that the Cafcass officer thinks it likely the contact should move on at some stage, otherwise there would be no point in recommending it.

It is also important to understand the purpose of that contact, which will most likely be to ensure that your daughter is used to being in your company and comfortable with you. The Cafcass officer might also be thinking that mum needs reassurance that you are committed. I am guessing from what you have said that until recently you saw your daughter infrequently. Don’t forget that what is happening now is meant to be the foundation for a life-long relationship and therefore 3 or 6 months of contact centre sessions may seem like ages now but measured against the rest of your daughter’s minority, in a year or two’s time will be a distant memory.

Your aim during this period must be to always go (come what may), always be on time and always make it the best time for your daughter it can possibly be, however difficult it is. If you can do this, you will have a strong argument for saying that the contact should progress, first away from the contact centre and then to overnight contact etc.

In relation to the drugs test, there is not much I can say other than get another test in a few months time. The hair can be segmented roughly by month (although this costs more) and make sure you take the full details of any prescription drugs you are taking with you, so the testing company can exclude them. I have personally been involved in a case where the drug test result was subsequently proved to be inaccurate, but they are extremely rare. Courts are not, I am afraid, consistent in their approach to drugs. Some courts would virtually ignore a ‘low’ result as a bit of recreational use which is fairly endemic in society and unlikely to have an impact on the child. Others regard it as almost totally inconsistent with child-rearing.

Finally, you talk about mum being possessive with respect to your daughter. It is not uncommon for a parent who is the primary carer to feel like this, especially if they have managed to have a period of time when you have been absent, even if they are wholly or partly to blame for that absence. It often comes from fear: fear that you may do something stupid or irresponsible while she’s with you, fear you have not changed since she knew you (and the fact that you are no longer together means she probably has a very dim view of you), fear that their child may end up loving you more than them… you get the idea.

She is your daughter’s mum and whether her fears are rational, irrational or even fabricated because she just does not want you to be in her or her daughter’s life, the fact that your daughter spends most of her time with her means that she is, I’m afraid, in the driving seat. You can take a number of approaches from doing everything you can to reassure her that her fears will not come true to coming out all guns blazing and argue every point. The trouble with the former approach is it can leave you feeling as if the process is unfair and one-sided. The trouble with the latter option is that she has the ability to knowingly or unwittingly sabotage your relationship with your daughter. The type of approach to take depends on many factors but I would always try mostly the former - in the long term it tends to work out better, in my experience.

It may be worth you setting out in a statement, in a reasonable, measured way the way in which you feel. When you have and have not used drugs, what reassurances you can give your daughter’s mother and what you wish to achieve.

Having said all of that, the Court should help you have and maintain a relationship with your daughter. There is nothing in what you have told me so far that would make me think your case is hopeless, in fact far from it. You must persevere and do not give up. You will get there.

Also, if you have been attending contact regularly and it has been going well, you have a very strong case for having
Parental Responsibility.

Oh, and do not, ever, take illegal drugs again...


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Contact, Alcohol and Depression? Will I be tested?

Question:

Question Asked by MM

My husband was granted a residency order for my children when I was unwell with depression and alcohol issues. I am now a recovered alcohol dependant and would like to apply for a contact order to see my children. So my question is will the court order any alcohol and/or drug testing?

Answer:

It is very likely.

The court will want to be satisfied that things have changed in your life. If there was a time in your life when you were suffering from depression and were drinking too much, the court is likely to want evidence that these things have changed. If you have not seen your children in a while, it might indicate that the difficulties were serious. In those circumstances I think a court is likely to want to see evidence that you no longer use alcohol inappropriately. This could be by way of alcohol testing. The court might also ask to see your medical records (which also means the children’s father is likely to see them) as they often show whether someone has regained stability in their life or continues to have problems.

If you have received support or counselling in relation to alcohol issues and/or depression, it may be worth getting something from whichever service provided you with help, confirming your engagement and progress.

Finally, if it has been a while since the children have seen you, the Court may ask a CAFCASS officer to speak to the children about how they feel having contact with you as it will be a big change for them.

In summary, I am saying that it is likely that a court would conduct a
thorough investigation of your circumstances and this is likely to include testing.

Having said all of that generally speaking a court would want children to have a relationship with their mother as this would normally be in their interests even if there has been a gap or there were previous problems. Of course this will depend upon what is best for the children and each case depends upon the individual circumstances of the parents and most importantly, the children.

I have written a page on Drug and Alcohol testing
here which might be helpful.


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My ex-partner uses drugs, what can I do?

Janet from Wrexham asks:

My ex-partner has applied for access [contact] with our child, who is 3 years old and we are due in Court soon. I do not want him to have access because he uses all sorts of drugs. What can I do?

Answer:

Generally the Court will take the view that drugs and children do not mix, especially Class A drugs (cocaine, heroin etc). Attitudes to cannabis vary and occasional use may not be considered fatal to a contact application but most judges do not ‘approve’ of any illegal drug use. This does not necessarily mean that the Court will not order some form of contact (see below).

The first stage is to be clear about what you are saying. What type of drug(s) do you allege he uses? Be clear to the Court about what you and saying and on what basis you are alleging it. He may admit drug use or he may deny it.

If he denies it, or says that it is only very rare, social use etc and you do not agree, the you have the option of asking for testing.

Drug Testing

The Court can order drug testing. This usually takes the form of what is called a ‘hair strand test’ which is where a clump of head (or body hair) is taken from the person being tested and broken into segments which represent months. Each segment is tested and the results indicate drug use during that month. So, for example, you can ask for testing to determine drug use in the last three or six months.

The cost of the testing depends upon two things - how much hair is tested (i.e. how many months the test goes back) and what drugs are being looked for e.g. just cocaine or cannabis or all possibilities. This is why it is important to be clear as to what you are alleging the use is and what your evidence for that use is. There is no point in testing for all drugs if in fact you are only saying he uses cocaine at weekends when he goes out with his mates.

Drug testing is very expensive. A test for all drugs going back six months usually costs over £1000. If you have the benefit of legal aid this may be paid for by your legal aid. However, if you are not legally aided and/or he is not, the Court has the option of deciding who pays for it. As legal aid disappears drug tests will become rarer. I also think it is likely, although I do not know for certain, that the Courts will have to think much more carefully about assigning the costs. If for example, someone alleges that their ex-partner is using drugs and they are tested and it turns out that they have not been using drugs, the Court may say that the person who made the incorrect allegation has to pay. Likewise if someone denies drug use and it turns out that they have been using drugs, then it may be that the Court makes them pay fro the whole cost of the testing. Up until now it has usually been the case that the cost is shared between the adults in the case (usually mum and dad) but I suspect this will change.

There are some ‘free’ possibilities. Have a look at the ‘Drugs and Alcohol Testing’ page on this website.

The drug test will give an indication of how heavy the drug use has been, although these indications are only guidelines.

There are some products that claim to ‘wash out’ drug use from hair. I am currently involved in a case in the High Court that is examining the science of hair strand testing and the general scientific evidence is that these products make little difference.

Drugs and Contact

Does illegal drug use mean he should not have contact? This depends upon what drug(s) he is using and how much. The Court will want to know that the child is safe in his care. It is very difficult to be prescriptive about this but common sense tells you that with the prevalence of illegal drug use if the Courts did not allow any contact between all parents who used any drugs whatsoever then there would be a massive increase in the number of children in care. Really it depends upon the impact of that drug use on the ability of the person to provide safe and appropriate care for a child during the time that he or she is seeing the child coupled with the Court’s assessment of that person’s attitude.

Often a Court will allow contact at a contact centre in the interim period and give the person some time to end their drug use. A serious long standing drugs addiction is very likely to be a bar to contact taking place in the long term.

It is also important not to be hypercritical about it. If someone thinks that their ex-partner uses drugs because when they were together they both used to go out every Saturday and indulge but now they are claiming the moral high ground, the Court is not going to be too impressed.

Further information on drug (and alcohol) testing is given on the ‘Drugs and Alcohol Testing’ page on this website together with information about drug and alcohol support services.

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