Marijuana use, both medical and recreational, has been legal in Washington state for some years now. You may know people who regularly use it, or even yourself may be a frequent user. Legally speaking, using marijuana should not affect your family law case. But this is not always the case because even medical marijuana could work to your disadvantage in a child custody case.

t is not uncommon to hear one parent alleging that the other parent is unfit to have child custody or visitation rights because of marijuana use. The family courts in Washington take marijuana use very seriously when awarding child custody. That’s why you need the advice of a family law attorney in Washington State when faced with such family law issues.

The truth is that marijuana use and child custody is still a major issue in Washington. Yes, you can buy and smoke weed in WA without being arrested or prosecuted. But once a child is in the picture of your family law case, you might want to reconsider your marijuana use.

How Does Marijuana Use Affect a Child Custody Case in WA?

Child custody disputes are often hostile, and involving marijuana use could make some cases even more so. If it’s a hot contest between the two parties, mudslinging is a possibility, and marijuana use is likely to be brought up.

Theoretically, marijuana falls under the same category as alcohol use. Unfortunately, the two are not always treated the same. In such cases, the court rarely bases its judgment solely on marijuana use. Rather, it will factor in considerations like how the use of controlled substances affects the person from parenting in the child’s best interest.

Custody Determined Based Upon a Child’s Best Interests

Family law courts don’t care what you do in your free time but care about a parent’s ability to provide a safe and stable environment for a child. With this in mind, you’ll understand why even the legal status of marijuana in Washington will have little effect on a court’s determination regarding child custody.

It is common for a judge to consider whether a parent often engages in excessive alcohol consumption when ruling on a child custody matter. Consequently, even with the legalization of alcohol for adults, an alcoholic parent will likely be denied custody over their child. The same principle applies to legal marijuana.

What’s The Court’s Opinion?

When determining parenting abilities and the use of legalized marijuana, Washington family courts are still new to this arena. Since recreational marijuana has been legal for a few years, it’s common for the negative stigma to exist even in our courts. If the legal marijuana impairs your parental abilities, compromises your judgment, or use becomes a problem to you, it may be raised in court.

Washington law RCW 69.51A.120 states that parental rights and visitation time shouldn’t be restricted from a medical marijuana patient. Even with such a law in place, many family law judges have a bias against any kind of marijuana uses. That’s why you need to be honest with your Tri-Cities child custody lawyer regarding your cannabis use so that you can have a response in advance in case it comes up in court.

What If I Don’t Use It Around the Kids?

You might have thought about using this as your defense – stating that you don’t use marijuana in the presence of your children. This, unfortunately, is often a slippery slope as you run the risk of being exposed as a bad parent by your partner.

The other parent can simply highlight your casual use of legal marijuana. Remember that limiting your use does not waive their right to use it against you. Instead of giving the other parent such an opportunity to challenge you, talk to your Richland child custody attorney for a better strategy.

What About Vaping?

This may vary from case to case. While this may be considered safe, some courts may not see the positive side of it. The judge is likely to view marijuana use as marijuana use, no matter the method of delivery.

What Will the Court Consider When Assessing Parenting Ability?

The courts will generally evaluate its use and abuse the same way other harmful drugs are evaluated.

When assessing marijuana use and child custody, the court will consider:

Frequency – too much use will definitely affect how you parent your child, like making important decisions. Similarly, excessive use means the child will likely be exposed to second-hand smoke.

Exposure – the court will try to figure out if the child is exposed to the parent’s marijuana use. Sometimes even limited use away from your children could potentially harm your parent’s custody rights.

The age of the children – children of different ages have different risks of exposure. Inhaling weed smoke could be harmful to an infant, while a teenager is likely to find the stash and use it when the parent is away.

How Can I Protect Myself and Defend My Parenting Abilities?

Deriving from what we’ve said above, the use of legal marijuana alone shouldn’t scuttle your custody claims. It may play a role, but that alone shouldn’t stop everything. Luckily, you have a few things you can do to protect yourself and defend your parenting abilities.

  • Rather than explain what the law says about the legality of marijuana use, focus on explaining to the judge how your marijuana use is responsible.
  • Take your time explaining to the courts what you plan to do to ensure that your use does not affect the kids. Provide relevant examples of how you will protect your child from marijuana exposure.
  • Additionally, be extra careful in your use of marijuana. For instance, never post it online and keep any paraphernalia away from others. Also, keep your stash away from the kids and only use it when they aren’t around

A Legal Counsel to Protect Your Interests

Regardless of its legal standing, substance use or abuse is almost always going to come up in a court that is supposed to make a child custody determination. Cannabis might be legal in Washington, but you need to be aware of the ramifications it carries.

If you feel anxious about your upcoming child custody case in the Tri-Cities area because of cannabis usage, discuss it with your attorney. Together, you can discover the pitfalls and ways of strengthening your case to preserve your parental and visitation rights. Call (509) 572-3700 for a free case evaluation.