It seems that rarely a day goes by without news of how alcohol, drug addiction, and the opioid crisis are leaving a path of emotional destruction across the United States. In family law, we see how this issue impacts and complicates the already difficult process of divorce and child custody matters. Fortunately, the courts take drug and alcohol addiction seriously when making decisions regarding conservatorship and possession. They have implemented methods that ensure the safety and wellbeing of children.


 If there is concern about alcohol abuse in your case, there are ways to test the other party to determine their level of alcohol use.To get a baseline of a parent’s past drinking habits, the party can be ordered by the court to take a Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) blood alcohol test, or a hair or nail test. The PEth test includes taking blood from the tip of the finger and can show usage going back 2 to 5 weeks.  It can indicate moderate consumption over 6 to 7 days, or severe consumption in one binge-drinking episode.  For the hair test, a patch of hair near the skin is collected, while a nail test will include cutting a person’s fingernails or toenails.  These tests will not show casual drinking but will detect chronic and/or binge drinking.  At the Law Office of Natalie Gregg, the preferred method is to have the party suspected of alcohol abuse to take either the PEth or nail test for reliability.


Another option is when a parent is ordered to take a urine test (also known as ETG).  The party being tested provide a urine sample that can show alcohol consumption up to 80 hours, depending on the amount consumed.  Approximately 3 drinks can be measured for up to 20 hours, while chronic or binge drinking is detectable up to 80 hours, making timing critical.  Urine testing is often used to have the other party to ensure compliance with their abstaining from alcohol.

If it is determined that a parent has an alcohol problem, there are options to ensure that the parent remains sober moving forward. Soberlink is the most popular solution.  This is a breathalyzer monitoring service that requires the person being tested to blow into the device at certain times throughout the day.  The device will notify the parent when to blow into the machine and will photograph the parent simultaneously.  The results will be sent to the attorneys and/or parties.  Any missed tests can be considered positive by the court.  The SCRAM CAM is a more convenient alternative to Soberlink but is also more expensive.  This monitoring device is placed on the parent’s ankle and like Soberlink, results are sent to the parties and their attorneys.  You can learn more about each of these monitoring tools at Soberlink: and SCRAM:


When drug use and abuse is the issue, it is possible to test for the type of drug, as well as the level of usage, which is important in determining whether prescription drugs are being abused. There are three methods for testing a person for drug use – through their urine, hair or nails.

With a urine test, the detection window is typically only a few days up to one week.  The test can indicate marijuana use up to 40 days if the person is a chronic user.  Urine testing is most often used to show recent drug use and when the court requires random drug testing.

The hair test involves taking a section of hair as close to the skin as possible, leaving the tested person with a bald patch of typically smaller than a penny.  The section is often taken behind the ear or in another discreet location.  Head hair testing typically detects a 3- to 5-month window of drug usage, while body-hair testing can possibly detect drug use up to one year.

The nail test is the most reliable test as it is difficult to manipulate the composite of a nail to remove traces of drugs, unlike urine and hair.  The detection window in a nail is 3 to 5 months in a fingernail and 8 to 12 months in a toenail.  The trick is ensuring that there is enough nail to test.  There are instances when a person is turned away from the testing site and required to return after enough time has passed for the nails to grow (along with instructions of no biting or clipping the nails).

Divorces and child custody disputes are tough enough without the concern of your child’s safety while in the care of someone with substance abuse issues.  The key is bringing these issues to your attorney’s attention early so that your attorney can address it with the court and ensure that drug or alcohol testing is quickly ordered in your case.