DUI’s and the Chaos to Custody and Parenting Time

The combination of drinking and driving leads to horrific and sometimes deadly consequences.  However, there are situations where there is no accident and the impaired driver is simply arrested for the misdemeanor offense. He is also left with court dates, embarrassment and jail time. 

            In Arizona, most DUI offenses are prosecuted as Misdemeanors.  This means that they are less serious offenses and usually result in some jail time, therapy, fines and the offender may lose his driver’s license.  A first-offense-misdemeanor DUI, while costly and embarrassing, will not destroy an individual’s life and the consequences are arguably designed to teach a lesson.  However, if there is a DUI arrest during an ongoing or anticipated divorce/custody matter, it can have much further reaching consequences.

             Take for instance this situation:

             Mike, an architect, and Carol a 3rd grade teacher are in the middle of a fairly amicable divorce.  Both parties have attorneys and through informal settlement meetings they have come to general agreements regarding custody, division of bank accounts and the use of the house.  While Carol disapproves of Mike’s girlfriend, who she blames for the breakup, Mike has expressed concerns that Carol is drinking a bottle of wine after putting their daughter Cindy in bed. According to Mike, as a result of the night drinking Cindy has been late for school four times in the last month.  Despite their shortcomings, Mike and Carol are committed to keeping the divorce dignified so as not to negatively impact Cindy.

            Carol was reluctant to start dating.  At the urging of her single friends, Sam and Alice, she agreed to go to a bar for a girl’s night out on a night Cindy was spending the night at Mike’s condo in Tempe. At the Regal Beagle, Sam buys the first round and Alice buys the second round of Appletinis. Carol had a third cocktail purchased by a guy who gave Carol his number. Shortly after she says goodbye to her girlfriends and leaves the bar alone. 

            On her drive home, Carol makes a wide right turn (as she and most people do) at the intersection of Scottsdale and Shea.   Immediately, she is pulled over by a Scottsdale Police Officer who has her step out of the car after he claims she had “bloodshot and watery eyes.”  Carol is asked to participate in multiple Field Sobriety Tests and tells the officer that she had a few drinks at the bar.  After administering H.G.N (the eye test) the officer reads her an MVD notice and obtains a blood sample to test her Blood Alcohol level.   

            Some weeks pass and Carol says nothing to Mike about the police incident, hoping and praying that the blood results would show she was safe to drive. Unfortunately, the blood tests came back at a .091 and Carol is charged with DUI in Scottsdale City Court. Although she kept this information from Mike, he suspected something was wrong and ultimately learned about the DUI when he opened mail from the Motor Vehicle Division regarding Carols’ license suspension.

With the divorce case almost settled, this new information raises so many questions:

  • How can he share custody with someone who may be going to jail?
  • How can he share custody with someone who withheld information that could impact the family?
  • Do they tell Cindy what is going on?
  • Carol withdrew $6,500 to pay her criminal attorney. Should that come out of her separate or community funds?
  • Carol lost finger print clearance card and her teaching license is no longer valid.  Carol will need to contest the matter with the State to keep her teaching credentials. 
  • When Carol gets her license back, there will be an Ignition Interlock Device on the car? And how will the Brownie carpool respond to the device and Carol’s DUI charge?

             A DUI will most likely impact the divorce proceedings.  No family court judge wants to put a child in the care of a parent who cannot control their drinking.  However, every case is different.  Having a proper substance abuse evaluation by a doctor who specializes in these issues may be helpful to the parties and the Court.  In this case, Carol’s livelihood (teaching) is compromised by her arrest and prompt legal action will be necessary to her keeping her job.   Having a competent attorney who can help Carol through the process may help keep her job and limit her jail exposure.  Moreover, keeping Carol employed may help mitigate Mike’s spousal support (alimony) obligation.