Serving Clients in Knox, Blount, Anderson, Loudon, Sevier & Roane Counties

Addiction and child custody

Millions of Americans suffer from substance abuse issues. In Tennessee alone, opioid abuse rates have risen to epidemic levels in the past eight years with Tennessee holding the 3rd highest rate of opiate prescriptions per capita in the country in 2018. This epidemic has affected all sorts of people – and children are not exempt. Often, children in families struggling with substance abuse find themselves in unhealthy environments that sometimes requires Court intervention to determine custody.

It is important to remember that Tennessee Courts always value the best interest of the children in making custody decisions. This means that courts will go out of their way to analyze what is the best option for a child before making such important decisions about their upbringing.

In some extreme situations, it may be best to terminate a parent’s parental rights if they are putting a child at great harm. Termination of parental rights in Tennessee must be based on clear and convincing evidence determining that grounds for termination are established and that this termination is in the best interest of the child. “Grounds” for termination can be based on a multitude of things, including:

  • Abandonment by the parent or failure to visit/provide support for the child
  • Substantial noncompliance by a parent with a DCS parenting plan
  • A parent has been found to have committed severe child abuse against the child
  • A child has been removed from the parent’s home by court order for at least six months following the filing of a juvenile court petition alleging that the parent’s child is dependent and neglected, the conditions that led to the removal of the child still persist preventing the safe return of the child, and the likelihood that the conditions will be remedied soon is small and that the continuation of the parent-child relationship diminishes the child’s chances of integration into a safe, stable, permanent home
  • Placing custody of the child in the person's legal and physical custody would pose a risk of substantial harm to the physical or psychological welfare of the child

Even if one of these grounds has been established by clear and convincing evidence, Tennessee Courts still require that a petitioner convince the court that termination of these parental rights is in the best interest of the child. Many factors can go into a determination of the child’s best interest, including parent-child relationship, child relationship with the community and if the parent has provided support for the child or any necessary care such as clothes, food, and medical care.


If you are suffering from an addiction problem and are worried about your parental rights, know that not all is immediately lost. It is important to get help for yourself and receive treatment—this will show that you value your commitment to bettering yourself for your children. You may be required to get further, randomized drug tests and drug screenings. Go to all of them! Any effort you put into your recovery, you are also putting into your children, and Courts take notice of this. Look into outpatient or inpatient treatments as soon as possible and make sure you get documentation to show that you are taking part in this. Documentation is a key part to showing the progress you are working for and reaching, and Courts need this clear evidence to see that progress. Judges like to see an addicted spouse taking responsibility for their actions, along with a clear path to better them. If you fear you cannot afford treatment or care, the TN Department of Substance Abuse Services offers many free and low-cost options within Adult Substance Abuse Treatment. Your suffering does not need to extend to your family, you deserve to get help for both you and your children’s futures.


The devastation of a loved one’s substance abuse can be even harder when children are involved—what if your co-parent is suffering from drug addiction? You want to feel safe with who is caring for your children and want to make sure they are not in harm’s way, so what can a concerned parent do? First and foremost, it is important to voice with your attorney if you fear that substance abuse or addiction is playing any role in your co-parent’s abilities.

Make sure that you keep other people aware of your fears. You may be able to petition to change a parenting plan to require randomized drug testing, addiction treatment, or supervised visitations with the help of the Department of Children’s Services and your attorney. Do not take it upon yourself to confront the other parent about your fears or suspicions! Words get twisted in all sorts of ways, and they can hurt a case more than help in many scenarios.

Our attorneys at Held Law Firm can assist you with the best way to go about discussing this with your co-parent in an appropriate, productive manner. If you would like to set up a consultation, call (865) 637-6550.