If a domestic court judge has ordered you to get an alcohol and drug evaluation or assessment, there are a number of important things to consider before you get your evaluation.
Look at the Big Picture
Most requests for an assessment come in one of three contexts.
Context #1 “Delay and Pay": In this context, the opposing side has little or no evidence that you have a substance use problem but they want to delay the hearing process for any number of reasons. Ordering a drug and or alcohol evaluation is another way to buy time, minimize your contact with your kids, exhaust your financial resources, or simply to aggravate you. In worst case scenarios the assessment can be a passive aggressive maneuver as payback for any perceived injustices of the past.
If this is your situation, try to remain focused on your children. Resist the urge to play the payback game with your ex. If no evidence exists to show you have a substance use problem, complete your evaluation cooperatively and openly. Judges are usually smart enough to figure out when the accusation against you is baseless or an exaggeration based on an out of character event from a decade ago.
b) Context #2 “This is How We Do Things in My Court”: In this context, the court uses drug/alcohol evaluations as a matter of standard procedure if there is even the slightest cause for concern about a history of misuse or abuse of substances. Domestic court judges have great freedom in what policies to utilize for drug and alcohol assessments in their courtroom. Similar to context #1, go through the process of getting an evaluation; be open and keep your focus on your children. As one of my favorite professors used to say, “just focus on being a decent human being”. If the opposing side is demonstrating poor character and immaturity, refuse to go down to their level. Your kids will thank you later.
c) Context #3 You Have a Problem, You Had a Problem, or You are on the Verge of a Problem with Alcohol or Drugs:
The opposing side, Guardian ad litem, or judge have evidence in front of them that could be a sign that you have a legitimate alcohol or drug use disorder Things like substance use related arrests, testimony of credible individuals, social media posts showing your intoxication as a pattern, car accidents, emergency room visits, a history of drug/alcohol treatment, drunk-texting, etc. The judge doesn’t know you or your ex and they want to know if the evidence in front of them is a warning sign that your parenting capability is seriously compromised by a substance use problem.
Approach Your Assessment With an Open and Cooperative Attitude
Recognize that a professional evaluation related to custody/visitation almost always involves the evaluator speaking to third parties. This often includes your ex. Tell the evaluator everything you believe the opposing side will say about your alcohol and/or drug use. This means the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you choose to minimize problems with alcohol or drug use in your evaluation, your evaluation will not be in your favor. Denying and minimizing behavior which the court sees as factual will only further the impression that you have a problem. For example, if you have had three DUI charges but only tell your evaluator about two of them, because one of them became a reckless operation conviction, it will probably hurt you in the end. It makes it look like you are hiding... never a good thing for your case.
Set Your Attitude and Expectations Correctly If You are in Context #3
If the court sees factual evidence that you are having a problem with drugs or alcohol you should start focusing on taking care of it. Don’t fight them. Show them that you are responsible. Show them that you have made changes or are in the process of making positive changes. Don’t blame other people. The quicker you address the problem (regardless whether it's a little or big one) the sooner you can get the courtroom behind you and enjoy time with your children again in addition to the other benefits of being free of problem substance use.
Choose an experienced professional for your evaluation. This will usually result in a more thorough and professionally presented report, which in turn should satisfy the court. However, you should be aware that it isn’t uncommon for the opposing side to push for a second evaluation if they believe the first evaluation is inaccurate because no substance use disorder was found. This can be aggravating and expensive, so do your best to get a good evaluation the first time around – use an experienced evaluator and be transparent with them.
Lastly, be sure to discuss your evaluation with your attorney prior to courtroom proceedings. Your attorney should be able to advise you if she/he thinks that you haven’t provided enough information to the evaluator, or there are key contextual points the evaluator should be aware of.