If there are concerns about a parent’s ability to abstain from alcohol during their parenting time, there are different options for addressing those concerns in real-time.
The first step is determining whether a parent’s alcohol use rises to the level of necessitating monitoring. In determining whether monitoring is necessary, although not an exhaustive list, the following factors (or a combination thereof) may suggest that real-time alcohol monitoring is appropriate:
- History of DUI/DWAI.
- Consuming alcohol every night.
- History of alcohol abuse but not currently enrolled in treatment (AA, sobriety counseling, outpatient treatment, etc.).
- Hiding drinking from family members.
- Consuming hard liquor directly from the container.
- May go days without contact with friends or family members.
Striking a balance between continued contact with the children and ensuring their safety is critical if a parent has an unmanaged alcohol abuse issue. There are 3 ways to actively monitor alcohol use in real-time during parenting time: a handheld or portable breathalyzer, Soberlink and BACTrack.
Handheld breathalyzers purchased from Amazon, Walgreens, etc. are the least reliable devices and have significant limitations. There are multiple products on the market that may not be accurate, so make sure you research the device and verify that it has been certified. Typically, a parent will blow into the device prior to the commencement of parenting time and at drop-off, and show the other parent the results in-person and in real-time. As a breathalyzer purchased from Amazon has no facial recognition features, if additional testing results are shared during parenting time via photos, they cannot be considered reliable. Although intrusive, consider Facetiming with the testing parent to visually verify the test and results.
Soberlink and BACTrack are handheld breathalyzers that use either facial recognition software (Soberlink) or video (BACTrack), and send the results to the other parent in real-time. Soberlink is a standalone breathalyzer that captures an image of the user’s face with built in cell service to transmit the results in real-time to the other parent via text and e-mail (this option must be selected in the subscription package otherwise weekly e-mailed reports are the default). Soberlink is considered the Gold Standard for active monitoring of alcohol use, the user is typically assigned a case manager, and tests are usually scheduled every 4-6 hours during waking hours; however, the cost of the device and the monthly subscription can be a concern.
BACTrack is a handheld breathalyzer without built in cell service that uploads results via Bluetooth to the user’s cell phone. BACTrack takes a video of the user’s test that is then shared with the other parent. While BACTrack has been approved for use by courts and is significantly cheaper than Soberlink, because the device has to connect to a cell phone and tech support is an additional cost, user error can interfere with timely uploading results.
No monitoring protocol is foolproof. As all three active monitoring options only address sobriety during waking hours, often Soberlink or BACTrack are combined with random, weekly Urinalysis (UA) testing or monthly PEth testing (bloodspot testing) to determine if alcohol has been consumed overnight. UA testing typically has a 24-48 hour look back window based on how fast the individual metabolizes alcohol. PEth testing utilizes markers in the blood to determine if a parent has binged alcohol in the last 28 days, but cannot pinpoint when alcohol consumption occurred within the 28-day window or the exact quantity of alcohol consumed.
James M. Cordes, Esq.
Woody Law Firm, LLC
140 E. 19th Ave, Suite 600
Denver, CO 80203