Custody is already an uphill battle for many parents, and the fear of losing custody is very real. Being familiar with the process can make it that much easier, especially by knowing some of the reasons a parent could lose custody of a child. 

Some of the most common reasons that you may have heard about include drug and/or alcohol abuse, mental health issues, violation of custody agreements or abuse of custody, or child abuse. 

Bear in mind that this article can help you understand some of the reasons why custody loss can happen. However, each and every case is different, and advice for your situation should come directly from your legal team. 

Drug/Alcohol Abuse

Drug addictions are often not what you see on television. The “junkie” stereotype is only one fraction of the drug addicts existing in the world today. Many of them are experts at hiding what they are doing because they know it is wrong.

One case I handled included a father with hundreds of medications in his home, all of which were prescribed to him. The only problem was, he was deciding for himself what to take and when. Some were muscle relaxers such as oxycodone, which provides a temporary high. This high leads to dependence upon the drug. 

For my clients, I examine photographs of the prescription drug labels. I check for pharmacy consistency as well as when they were filled. Clients may also photograph what’s inside the bottle to be sure it is consistent with what’s on the outside label. Credit card statements are also examined to see where they are spending money and why. 

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to prescription drugs. The best policy is to use them only when needed and in accordance with their labels, and to get all your scripts from the same place only when appropriate. Disclose what you are using, when, and why with your legal team.  

Alcohol abuse is another reason why custody of a child may be lost. It is already touchy enough when a parent is in the throes of alcohol abuse, but for alcoholic parents, measures must be taken to protect the children during visitation. Many of these cannot be followed by addicts who are deep into their problem; for instance, it may be ordered that no drinking shall be done 12 hours before the children come over. However, an addict cannot resist, claiming they will have “just one,” which leads to five. 

If allowed at all, visitation will likely be short if a person is addicted to alcohol. They may also be supervised to be sure the addicted parent does not drink while the children are present. 

These supervised visits are also usually short – for instance, 10 am to 2 pm – and may increase over time if the addict can prove to the judge that they are maintaining consistent sobriety. This is just one example of how a judge might handle such a case-check with your family court.

Mental Health Issues

Many parents worry they might be unfit guardians thanks to conditions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. It should be noted that these are relatively common and may be treated with counseling and medicine.

However, borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder are different. These are disorders that can really affect a healthy relationship with a child. For instance, somebody with NPD will not focus on what their kids need, instead choosing to focus on what they want at any given moment. 

Some symptoms of NPD include the following: 

  • Huge sense of self-worth
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Fixated upon fantasies of beauty, brilliance, riches, or success
  • Taking advantage of others to get what they want
  • Belittling others to feel superior, treating others with contempt to feel superior

Meanwhile, a person with BPD is afraid and has no stability in their lives. The actions and behaviors of this individual affect those around them in a negative way, especially the kids. Some symptoms of BPD include the following: 

  • Unstable relationships
  • Extreme mood or emotional swings
  • Explosive anger
  • Harmful behavior toward oneself
  • Impulsive behaviors

It goes without saying that these ailments do not lead to a healthy environment conducive to a child’s growth and well-being. They are absolutely reasons custody could be lost. That being said, it is important that those dealing with these disorders demonstrate they are getting adequate help. 

Receiving help for these disorders is not a bad thing. Keep your counseling records within easy reach, take medications as prescribed, and be sure you provide your counselor’s phone numbers to your legal team so all communication channels are open and it is plain to see you are getting the necessary help and not abusing medication. 

If a judge sees that you are getting help and being treated for what is ailing you, be it NPD, BPD, anxiety, depression, or anything in-between, be advised you are taking the healthy and safe approach to your problem. It will not be viewed negatively. It is much easier for parents and children to deal with a parent who is being treated and appropriately medicated. 

Threats Made by Other Parent

Occasionally, a parent will come into my office – usually a mother – stating that something they’ve become privy to is huge and may cause them to lose custody. It is truly every parents’ fear that they will not gain any custody of their children. 

In most cases, however, one parent will have to prove that the other is very unfit to parent to get them to switch custody. In some cases, one parent may threaten the other, bully them, or lie to them about their concerns. This is where it is critical you speak with your attorney so they can reassure you about the facts. 

Some parents, mostly dads, say they will take the kids away or do all they can to get sole custody. This is nothing more than talk, abuse of the vulnerability of the other party. False allegations are another theme – and believe me, children’s’ services are VERY aware and very well-trained to recognize false allegations. 

As per the law, they have to entertain all of them, but it is very easy for them to see when nothing is wrong. And when the courts see that numerous false reports have been filed, it is clear that somebody is abusing the system, and the courts do not like to see this. 

The best thing to do if threatened is to speak with your attorney as soon as possible. 

Violation of Custody Agreement/Abuse of Custody

In some situations, we see instances of parents who do not follow the custody orders that were established via the courts. The consequences are serious when children are alienated from their other parent. 

It starts with excuses: “He is sick,” “Oh, she’s too tired from school,” etc. Eventually, it becomes clear that one parent is keeping the other from their kids. To remedy this, the process of habeas corpus may be utilized and is recommended to parents whose kids refuse to go to them on scheduled visitations.

Should habeas corpus be used and not followed, the police may get involved. What your local officers will do varies from district to district, officer to officer. 

In some instances, the police will review the order and stand there until the child is safely buckled into the car of the other parent and ready to go. In others, the police will not get involved. 

It is okay to call the police if you feel safer doing so. It could very well lead to a peaceful transition. If you are coming up on a situation where law enforcement has already been called, do comply with all the officer’s instructions and do it calmly. You may also place a call to your attorney so they can vouch for your character if necessary. 

In sum, it is best not to defy orders of custody, as it will lead to loss of said custody and also paint you in a negative light. 

Child Abuse

It goes without saying that child abuse is a reason custody is lost. Abuse does not need to be severe; rather, it must threaten the physical and emotional well-being of the child or children in question. It can be verbal or physical. Neglect is a form of abuse. 

Judges take child abuse in any form seriously. After all, custody is based upon the best interests of the child. Parents who fail to treat their children properly may lose custody. 

Both parents can lose custody if one parent was aware of the abuse and did nothing about it. The child can be removed from the home and children’s services or another local agency will get involved and place the child with relatives or even into foster care. If the judge feels that the abuse may happen again, the rights of the abusive parent can be cut off completely. 

Abuse of a child must be proven. You will need evidence from family friends, relatives, doctors, or others who have witnessed abuse taking place. 


In sum, there are several reasons why custody can be lost. It is in your best interest to follow all court orders and orders given to you by your doctor or therapists. And, as always, be sure to speak with your attorney for the best information regarding your case.