Marijuana laws are changing all over the country, with more than 20 states legalizing the use and possession of marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes. The changes in the laws are also having an unintended effect in family court, as well. Now, your completely legal use of marijuana can actually endanger your rights to visitation or custody of your child.
What's In The Best Interests Of The Child?
When courts decide child custody issues they have to consider what's in the "best interests" of the child. What exactly that means, however, is somewhat vague and can vary drastically from court to court and case to case. Judges are allowed to consider:
- domestic violence concerns
- the wishes of the parents
- the living conditions of each parent
- the parent's ability to care for the child
- the child's age, physical, and mental health
- the relationship (or lack of one) between parent and child
- the child's wishes (if he or she is old enough to express them)
- the mental and physical health of the parent
- evidence of any child abuse or neglect
The court can also simply decide that your marijuana use is important when deciding whether or not to give you custody or visitation because judges have very broad discretionary powers when it comes to deciding what is and is not relevant in child custody cases.
Can Your Marijuana Use Be Considered Child Abuse Or Neglect?
In a variety of cases across the country, the legal use of marijuana by parents has been brought into court as evidence of child abuse and neglect. In some cases, it's a vindictive ex-spouse that's bringing the issue up, and in other cases it's been brought up by schools or other concerned individuals. In some cases, the issue is resolved without any undue prejudice against the legal use of the drug. In other cases, however, parents haven't been so lucky.
The problem for parents who use marijuana is that marijuana has a mixed legal status no matter where you possess it. While state laws may allow its possession and use for either medical or recreational purposes, federal laws still treat marijuana as an illegal drug. That makes possessing it while your children are in your home illegal - and judges can consider that a form of recklessness or an inability to put your children's needs ahead of your own. For many judges, that alone is enough to be considered child abuse and against your child's best interests.
If you use legal marijuana for medical or recreational reasons and are involved in a divorce or custody dispute, discuss the issue with your family attorney like Law Office of Shelli Wright Johnson early so that you can resolve the issue before it becomes a problem.