A recent news story of the overdose of a New Jersey teacher in a middle school classroom highlights the dangers of drug use in the presence of children. After the teacher lost consciousness, children viewed the administration of Narcan and the teacher's resuscitation by paramedics, resulting in charges against the teacher. In the US, 33 states specifically address exposing children to drug use as criminal behavior, and 16 states define even possession of a controlled substance in the presence of children as a felony. New Jersey law does not specifically address this issue, but courts are increasingly concerned about the effect that seeing adults, especially parents, engage in drug use may have on children.
Allegations of Parental Abuse Based on Drug Use
A parent or caregiver may face allegations of child abuse or unfitness as a parent because of drug use or abuse. These allegations can have devastating consequences for the parent and family.
How Courts Become Involved
Courts typically become involved in allegations of parental drug use or abuse in one of two ways:
- Allegations made during child custody proceedings.
- Pursuant to a complaint made to the custody court or a state agency.
In New Jersey, complaints of parental fitness based on drug use go before the NJ Division of Child Protection and Dependency (DCP&P)
DCP&P and Allegations of Child Abuse
The DCP& investigates child abuse allegations, including allegations based on drug or alcohol abuse. A parent or person providing care to a child may face allegations of child abuse based on drug use when that drug use limits their ability to supervise and care for a child. But courts view any illicit drug use negatively, and this extends to DCP&P proceedings. A parent accused of child abuse based on drug use should discuss the issue with legal counsel immediately.
A DCP&P complaint may result in a change to the custody order, although the custody court may also hear complaints of parental drug use or abuse.
Child Custody Proceedings
In custody proceedings, a parent may become concerned about the drug use of a co-parent or caregiver. Allegations of drug use must be substantiated and handled carefully. A parent with these concerns should seek legal counsel immediately.
For other parents, allegations of drug or alcohol abuse can negatively impact a child custody case. These allegations may even involve an earlier addiction problem for which the parent has successfully sought treatment. Any parent facing allegations of this type should seek legal counsel immediately.
If you have questions about child custody or DCP&P investigations, contact Joseph Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team online or by phone at 888-535-3686 for a consultation.