August/September 2010 Newsletter

Drug & Alcohol 


Allegations of drug and alcohol use and abuse are frequently a major issue in divorce, separate support, and paternity actions, particularly when children are involved.  Depending on the information/allegations that are made to the court, the court may order that one or both of the parties be ordered to complete either drug or alcohol testing.  Allegations about an individual's driving record, including but not limited to charges of operating under the influence, involuntary commitments in rehabilitation placements and/or half-way houses, or involuntary commitments at in-patient treatment at psychiatric and/or medical facilities may provide a basis for the court to investigate the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs by the parties.  Additionally, if either party and/or the children are involved with the Department of Children and Families, and there are reports and/or allegations relative to use of drugs and/or excessive use of alcohol, the Department may become involved and request that the parties participate in drug or alcohol testing.
If the court feels that there is enough information to warrant an immediate drug or alcohol test, the judge may order the parties to immediately submit to a urine screen at the Probate Court.  These urine screens may detect recent alcohol and/or drug use.  Additionally, if the court feels that a party is intoxicated at the time of a hearing, the judge may order a breathalyzer as well.  If the testing is ordered, a Probation Officer will administer the random urine screens, and provide the results to the court.  Although the urine screens may detect recent use of alcohol or drugs, the court may also order a hair follicle test.
A hair follicle test is routinely ordered when there is a concern about long-standing and consistent drug use.  In the Plymouth County area, the judges will order parties to submit to a hair follicle test at Secon in either Brockton or Quincy.  The hair follicle test consists of a sample of hair from either the head, under the armpit, or other parts of the body of sufficient length to complete the testing.  The hair follicle test may determine drug use up to approximately 90 days prior to the testing.  Many judges order the hair follicle test and random urine screens in order to determine whether or not there is/has been abuse of illegal substances and/or alcohol.
Random urine screens, for either drug or alcohol use, may be conducted at the Probate Court or at a private facility such as Secon.  There are fees for each random test, as well as for the hair follicle test.  Random drug screens are coordinated through the Probation Officer.  Each party is assigned a color, and must call in each and every day, for so long as the order for random screens is in effect, and if his/her color is identified, must report to the designated facility within the time frame directed by the Probation Officer.
In the event that one party alleges the other has engaged in illicit drug use, the other litigant should be aware that the court will likely order both parties to submit to such testing.  The defense of "recreational drug use only," will not be acceptable to the court, and any evidence of drug and alcohol use and/or abuse could have a dramatic impact on custody and/or custody, visitation, and/or parenting time.
The court may, after hearing allegations of drug and alcohol abuse, and/or after receiving urine and/or hair follicle testing results, use the information to set a parent schedule, or may immediately alter current visitation orders, including suspension of visitation, and/or change of custody.  If the results are positive for one or both of the parties, the court may order supervised visitation by a family member, paid supervisor, and/or order that visitation occur at an appropriate or acceptable visitation center.  Supervised visitation, if ordered, will likely remain in full force and effect until a party has consistent negative urine screens, and/or a negative hair follicle test, or such testing results that are acceptable to the court.  Any litigant involved in custody/visitation disputes must be aware that the court considers drug and alcohol addictions very seriously.


1.     That each county in Massachusetts has law libraries open to the public?  Plymouth County has two excellent law libraries:  Plymouth, located in the "new" courthouse at 52 Obery Street, Plymouth, MA, and Brockton, at the Superior Court Building, 72, Belmont Street, lower level.

Both libraries have experienced and helpful librarians who can direct you to the statutes, case law, or other materials of interest. 

2.     That the Plymouth County Bar Association sponsors the Lawyer of the Day program in both the Brockton and Plymouth Courthouses?  Each day, lawyers volunteer to advise litigants as to what and/or how to proceed in various matters, and to assist litigants in completing forms, etc. There is no charge for the services, which are intended to benefit those who do not have the funds to retain an attorney.  It is not intended to be used by litigants currently represented by counsel.  There is no charge for the service, but call the courthouse to insure an attorney is available that day.

3.     The Register of Probate's Offices in Brockton and Plymouth have informational packets available to the public listing various organizations that offer low cost or no cost legal representation.  Some of these organizations include but are not limited to Volunteer Lawyers in Boston and South Coastal Legal Services in New Bedford.

4.     The Plymouth County Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bar Association both offer referral services to the public.  If you need an attorney for a specific area of law, or are looking for an attorney in a certain geographic location, these organizations can help.  

Plymouth County Bar Association
Lawyer Referral Service  (508) 584-6600    
Massachusetts Bar Association
Lawyer Referral Service  (866) MASS-LRS
Issue: 19

scales of justice

In This Issue
What You Should and Need to Know About Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Probate Court
Did You Know . . . ?


Commencing October 1, 2010, Massachusetts has a new law that prohibits all drivers from texting while behind the wheel and bans use of all cell phones by drivers who are 16 and 17 years old. The young drivers are barred from using a variety of devices (TVs, video, PCs) under the heading "mobile electronic devices."

Fines for adults: $100 (first offense), then $250 and $500. Fines for drivers under 18: $100 plus 60-day license suspension and youth traffic school (first offense), then $250 with six-month suspension and then $500 with a one-year suspension. Tickets are not moving violations and do not affect insurance premiums.

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If anyone has a topic that would be of general interest, please do not hesitate to contact the office and let us know what items would be of general interest to the readers of this newsletter.
Susan C. Ryan, Esq.
Law Office of Susan Castleton Ryan, PC
(781) 982-8850

This newsletter is designed to keep you up-to-date with changes in the law.  For help with these or any other legal issues, please call our firm today.
The information in this newsletter is intended solely for your information .  It does not constitute legal advice, and it should not be relied on without a discussion of your specific situation with an attorney.