Antonio Sabato Jr’s Divorce is Finalized: The Impact of Parental Substance Abuse on Custody and Access Decisions

Antonio Sabato Jr’s divorce has been finalized. The former soap star and his ex-wife Cheryl Marie, have joint legal and physical custody of their 7-year old son. Sabato Jr has to pay child and spousal support, and agree not to take any drugs without a valid prescription. Marie claimed Sabato Jr abused prescription drugs, and was worried about their son’s safety.

Addiction can negatively impact relationships, and can be a factor in a couple’s divorce, especially in cases that involve children. It can lead to trust issues, financial problems, and concerns about parenting ability. When substance abuse exists, separating from an addicted spouse can be even more challenging and frightening than in a divorce without substance issues.

What would have happened if they were in Ontario? 

In Ontario, courts will generally respond to a parent’s substance abuse during a child custody or access hearing or when complaints about suspected substance abuse and its impact on your children are reported to CAS or to the court that issued the custody or access order. 

Custody Decisions 

Marie would have had to prove that Sabato Jr was abusing drugs in order for the judge to take it into consideration when making an order for custody. She could prove his dependency with pictures, videos, evidence of arrests or hospitalizations. Judges must consider specific factors when making an order for custody that is in the child’s best interest. Since the decision comes down to what’s in the child’s best interest, a parent who has a history of drug addiction will have difficulty getting custody of a child.

If Marie raised the issue in court, the judge will likely investigate the matter to determine whether the allegations are true, and if so, whether Sabato Jr’s alcohol or drug use impacts his ability to properly care for their son. 

Access Decisions

If custody has already been determined in your favour when a substance abuse issue is raised, the judge may restrict the other parent’s contact with the children by altering the access arrangement. Substance abuse will – in most cases – not preclude access. Access can take many forms, occur in different places, can be supervised, or occur in a therapeutic setting, or for limited times. All of these options may make it possible for access to be safe for the child. 

In most cases, courts recognize that it is beneficial for children to have contact with and to get to know both parents. Judges won’t order access if doing so may put the child at risk of harm. However, there are very limited situations in which the risk of harm cannot be addressed by supervised access. In addition, the judge can require that the access remain supervised until the parent can demonstrate that there has been a change in circumstances or the parent takes part in a substance abuse counseling or rehabilitation program.

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