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Child custody, drug tests and poppy seed bagels

Lakeville readers may have seen a recent story about a woman who lost custody of her newborn baby after a poppy seed bagel apparently made her test positive for drug use. The woman has settled a lawsuit against the county and hospital where the baby was born. While certainly an unusual case, it does illustrate some factors common to child custody disputes.

The woman was tested for drug use shortly after being admitted to the hospital to give birth to the child in 2010. The test came back positive for opiates. Once her daughter was born, the hospital staff tested the newborn for drugs as well, but no trace of opiates was found. However, three days after the birth, county officials showed up and took custody of the child.

Officials later found no other evidence of drug use by the mother, and the mother and the father of her child were eventually able to persuade authorities that a bagel was to blame for her test results. An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which took up the woman's case, argued that the hospital's test standard of 300 nanograms per milliliter was so low that a subject could produce positive results after eating poppy seeds. Federal workplace drug standards find a positive drug result only after 2,000 nanograms per milliliter. As part of the settlement of the woman's lawsuit, the county and hospital have both agreed to changes in their policies to ensure that nothing like this happens again.

This case is unusual, but accusations of drug use come up frequently in more typical child custody disputes. Child custody is divided into two main types, physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is the right to live with the child. Legal custody is the right to make decisions about child-rearing. Most Minnesota parents share both these forms of custody jointly, in some arrangement.

Minnesota family law courts presume that some form of joint custody is the best solution when both parents want it. But ultimately, courts make their decisions based upon the best interests of the child. When there is evidence of parental drug, alcohol or sexual abuse, the courts may consider this parent unfit for physical or legal custody.

The presence or absence of drug use is just one thing to consider in child custody disputes. Minnesota parents who are trying to change their custody arrangements should seek out help understanding the laws and their legal options.

Source: WESA, "Policies Change as Part of Poppy Seed Child Custody Settlement," Mark Nootbaar, July 2, 2013

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