Episode 22

Abigail: Addiction, the Family, and the Law

October 29th, 2021

Announcer: Welcome to Addiction and the Family, “Episode 22: Addiction, the Family, and the Law.”

Casey Arrillaga: How has addiction affected your family?

Female Speaker: It robbed me of my father.

Female Speaker: Addiction's affected my family in absolutely every way.

Male Speaker: It has caused a lot of turmoil.

Female Speaker: It goes back to what I understand is at least three generations.

Female Speaker: It robbed my daughter of her mother. It robbed my mother of her daughter.

Female Speaker: Addiction has made our family quite challenging.

Male Speaker: Addiction has affected my family tremendously.

Male Speaker: It's affected my relationship with my sister where I wouldn't – I'd go for months without talking to her. It's a very difficult thing for everybody involved. It doesn't just affect the one individual. It's a disease that affects the whole family.

Male Speaker: Addiction is spread not only genetically through some of my relatives and I assume ancestors.

Female Speaker: It's generational.

Female Speaker: I think of him every day.

Casey Arrillaga: Welcome to Addiction and the Family, a podcast by and for family members of anyone with an addiction. My name is Casey Arrillaga, and I'm a clinical social worker and addiction counselor at both Windmill Wellness Ranch and InMindOut Emotional Wellness Centers. I’m the author of Realistic Hope: The Family Survival Guide to Alcoholism and Other Addictions. My wife, Kira, and I were in our addictions together for over ten years and have shared recovery for almost twice that long. We have lived the experience of being family to addiction as both children and adults. Join us as we offer experience, strength, and realistic hope about how you and your family can find recovery together.

In this episode, we interview Abigail Seymour, whose practice, Camino Law in North Carolina, specializes in family law. Abigail is passionate about helping people navigate the tricky and often emotional waters of child custody when addition is involved. She offers insight into the issues that come up for people in recovery who are trying to regain custody, co-parents of people with addiction, and grandparents who suddenly find themselves involved in raising children when addiction has struck one or both of parents. We’ll hear all of this and more after a message from one of our sponsors.

Abigail, welcome to the podcast. Tell us what brings you to a show called Addiction and the Family?

Abigail Seymour: I am a family law attorney. I am a member of the recovery community and have been since 1996 and went to law school much later in life after having really straightened my world out, as one can imagine, and could never have been able to do what I was able to do in later years if I hadn’t been in recovery. It’s just in everything I do. It’s how I was able to get through law school. It’s how I can do anything. Originally was interested in practicing immigration law because I speak Spanish, I have a child who was adopted Central American country. I was very involved with immigration issues. I didn’t start out aiming towards things that had to do with recovery, but now I practice family law and have begun specifically working with families who are struggling with addiction, whether it be parents who are in active addiction and have lost custody of their children and are trying to regain them or sadly grandparents who have suddenly found themselves to be taking care of young, young children because their adult child has either died of an overdose or is in severe addiction and unable to take care of their kids. It’s an unusual area that I hadn’t realized existed but I now find that there’s really a need for it. It’s a big part of my practice.

Casey Arrillaga: You’ve touched on this a little already, but could you give us some detail on the needs you see and the work you do for families when addiction is involved? What do families most need to know?

Abigail Seymour: When people think about the law when it relates to somebody who’s struggling with addiction, we often just automatically assume they’re going to have some kinds of run-ins with criminal law. Yet, there is a huge element to their lives if they are parents, and a lot of young people are, that are hugely affected by their addiction. We have a couple of safeguards in place that people are familiar with. It’s called different things in different states. In our state, it’s called the Department of Social Services and we have something called Child Protective Services. It’s a federal program that has been monetized state to state. It’s really when you’ve got a situation where someone truly is not able to care for a child and there’s nobody else in the family who can or there’s just not enough of a safety net within a family. That is often what we deal with people in very severe situations of addiction. For the most part, the state is looking for other family members to assist in taking care of children while somebody is in recovery.

The good news is the way the law is written is truly a way of supporting somebody who’s in recovery because the goal is reunification. We also have family drug court in our state. It’s not as prevalent in each county as just a regular drug treatment court where you would go and have your charges to be dropped if you were to participate in completing that program, but within the court, it’s the same thing. If you’re at risk of losing your children, you could go through a program that’s a marriage between a recovery rehab 12-step situation plus a legal process. If you were to complete the 12 weeks and make sure you met with your sponsor and a therapist and do all those different things, then you’re reunited with your kids without having to go through any other kinds of separation from your children.

There are these different ways that it touches a family. Sometimes it’s grandparents versus adult child who’s the addict. That can seem adversarial, but a lot of times, the addict understand that that’s what needs to happen in order the children to go where they need to be to be safe, but then sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes we have to represent the addict who’s trying to get the child back from another family member and he or she is really working the program, they’re really doing well, the law supports that but the system is sometimes really slow and it’s hard to get adjudicated. I just really love working with people who are really trying to work the program and do what’s right for their children, which is to take care of themselves.

Casey Arrillaga: Maybe you could talk a little bit about how you personally connect with and got into this work.

Abigail Seymour: I am a parent. By the grace of God, my kids have never seen me use or drink because I have been sober for longer than they’ve been alive. Every part of my life since I was 30 years old has been part of a 12-step community. To be able to meet people who are in this place and sometimes they come to me they have no idea. We do put on our website that we are recovery friendly. I think the very first client that came to my office for a family law matter was somebody in tremendous crisis. She said, “I’ve been sober for six months,” and I just got goosebumps. I was so thrilled. I broke anonymity and I said, “Oh, my gosh. I’m so happy for you. I’m so thrilled you’re here. I get it.” From then on, it was just this amazing way to apply my love of the program with what I’ve learned as a lawyer and be able to try and help that person navigate a world that they don’t really understand but that I can speak that language, too.

I just think there’s an interesting place for a recovery minded person in the law, because I find judges, too, by the way, even though many of them are not in recovery, that they love what recovery can do for people. They encourage it. I don’t see a stigma within the legal system as much as one would imagine. They really are excited to see people get well. That makes me just proud to be part of it and proud to see people get better. I love Anne Lamott. Anne Lamott said, “Everybody loves a great resurrection story.” When I work with people in recovery, that’s part of the process. To be part of reuniting a family as they get better is a wonderful thing to be a part of.

Casey Arrillaga: You get to be part of that resurrection story and help guide people through it.

Abigail Seymour: They are in charge of their story. There is a woman I represented who wasn’t sure what to do next. She wasn’t sure she should go to rehab. I remember saying to her, “The person who has the most power in this case is you because the longer you stay sober and the longer you keep moving forward and do what’s right for you, the better this story is going to turn out.” Even though in that stressful moment, you’re like, “I should be X, Y, and Z,” it’s all about belonging and it’s about sobriety because the more well and the more sane we all become, the better we’re going to be for our kids. It’s wonderful to witness but it’s just a story I get to watch. I don’t feel like I’m part of it in that sense. I just get to be witness.

Casey Arrillaga: I hear your message there as being similar to how a mentor or a sponsor might remind someone that they are in charge of their own recovery, but at the same time, there’s a metaphor I use when working with my clients when I say to them, “You’re the athlete and I’m the coach.” I can suggest and guide, but it will be up to them what they do with those suggestions and that guidance. When it comes down to it, they’ll get the glory and the rewards, as they should, but we all know that a great coach can make a difference.

Abigail Seymour: Yes.

Casey Arrillaga: Abigail, it sounds like sometimes you get to be that coach, because as you said, a lot of people come into the legal system and they’ve run into it to criminal charges around alcohol and other drugs, but especially when it comes to family law, they don’t know how to navigate that system. That’s where you come in.

Abigail Seymour: Yeah, I think what’s fascinating about it is that what we learn is patience and that there is a sense of urgency when you’ve got something that’s a crisis legally that’s happening in that moment, but what I’ve learned over time is just that time is our friend because the fog clears. You can make better decisions. More will be revealed as time goes forward, and that even though somebody is in agony because they’re being separated from their child for six months or eight months or a year, what we can see is we’re talking about being reunited for the rest of your child’s life. Let’s just remember that that’s what we’re focusing on and what that means if you can just be patient and focus on today, focus on yourself and on your recovery, that will come to pass. That is a coaching thought. It’s not really legal advice when I’m speaking to something in those terms, but that is where understanding the long-term benefits of staying clean and sober are a huge help in making those recommendations.

Casey Arrillaga: Yeah, I’ve worked with clients who are struggling with criminal cases who get frustrated or discouraged because their case gets pushed back often multiple times. I’m like, no, time is on your side because every time it gets pushed back, you have that much longer that you’re sober. When you go in front of a judge and you have six months sober versus nine months sober versus a year sober, each one of those is going to look more impressive.

Abigail Seymour: 100%, that’s very much the same thing that I’ve said, too. We have the same delays in our system where we’ll be all ready to get a hearing and then it gets pushed back. We have dockets that are overflowing, etc. One of the standards in our court system for civil court to make a change or a modification to a custody agreement is that the person has to prove a substantial change in circumstances that affect a minor child. If someone has [12:54] custody to a family member because they were in active addition, and now two and a half years later, they are much better, or maybe not even that much time, but every delay creates that even more substantial change in circumstances. Just like you said, it’s more on your side. If you’re a year sober as opposed to six months, you’ve got even more changes that you can point to and celebrate which will help your case. I think that clients don’t always see that way, but that’s okay. That’s why we’re there to say, “We have this. This is better. I promise.”

Casey Arrillaga: Everyone wants to get reunited with their children as quickly as possible, I imagine, but people with addiction have been known to struggle with delayed gratification.

Abigail Seymour: Yes, this is true. Sometimes I have to remind people who are on the other side – I also represented parents where the other parent is in active addiction. I just had a case like this the other day where a person didn’t come because he was in rehab. My client luckily was loving and generous and wants their child to have a relationship with her father, but I often remind them we need our children to have two functional parents. We want that to happen. We want them to get better because that’s what their child needs.

Casey Arrillaga: Yeah, I had a really beautiful moment earlier today. A client of mine, their spouse has stayed in touch. My client had been in treatment fairly long term, struggled a bunch when they left, went back out and using street drugs. It was looking pretty dire. We were all crossing our fingers that they were even going to live. Luckily, they made it back home having come from out of state. The family ended up reuniting. Now I’d say once a month or so, I get pictures of both parents together with the young child. The kid’s up on my client’s shoulders. I’m like, this is an amazing miracle. You can never tell what’s going to happen, but seeing these stories of families reunited is worth all the effort that goes in from everyone. I imagine you must hear back from your clients after you’re done with your official role in their process.

Abigail Seymour: I do. I really encourage them to stay in touch with us. We have all the birthdays written down for their kids and send them cards. Sometimes the kids have come in and drawn pictures for us which we keep on the wall. We really try to maintain a relationship for the long-term. We hope they don’t ever become our clients again because that means they had something go wrong in the family, but we want to have them stay in touch with us. There’s just nothing that makes me happier than seeing a picture that somebody shares of them with their children. It’s just a wonderful thing that we can keep for ourselves here in the office and celebrate with them. It’s so meaningful. It’s the best part of what we do, for sure.

Casey Arrillaga: I imagine what you do is rewarding, but no matter how it goes, it’d be very emotional work. What is that like for you?

Abigail Seymour: It’s interesting. I was a writer before I became an attorney. I didn’t even go to law school until I was 47. I’ve been married a couple of times. I was writing a note to somebody today and I said I buried my sister. I buried my dad. When life brings you to your knees, there’s just a fortitude that it gives you, I think. I did not plan to do family law because when I was in law school, people were like, “Oh, that’s tough. I have a friend who’s a defense attorney that said, “I’ll take murder over custody any day.” For me, it feels very vital to me. It’s very close to experiences that I’ve had as a parent. I certainly don’t think one needs to be a parent to do custody law, but I do think it helps.

I have to practice a lot of self-care. We only see clients and go to court four days a week. We try to do a lot of things that lighten the mood. I practice a pretty strong spiritual program. I stay in touch with a sponsor and friends. I just need to put the oxygen mask on myself first, as we all do, but particularly with this kind of work because compassion fatigue is a real problem. There’s a lot of burnout in our local community. Attorneys, people come through pretty quickly and they say, “You know what? I might do tax law or I might do real estate law, something that doesn’t have so much emotion.”

What’s funny is what I did in my previous life, I was a photographer and a writer. I did journalism and editorial to survive and make money as a wedding photographer. I was at the beginning of relationships for almost ten years, which is funny. That was partly why I didn’t even want to do family law because I was, “Oh, my gosh. The optics are terrible. I can’t have been a wedding photographer and then become a divorce attorney,” but there are so many similarities because weddings in the photography world are the family law in the corporate law world because people don’t like to shoot weddings because of the emotions and the drama and pain and the potential complications that there are. I realized there are lots of similarities there.

For me, it’s just all about being in service and being part of a family in a very intense time. It’s amazing how many times I’ve noticed parallels in what I do now to what I used to do as far as the intimacy when I would be involved in a family wedding and you just jump right in and you’d know everything about everybody. I can certainly remember times where there were parties who couldn’t even be in the same photographs together. The essence of all that was some sort of family law case, some sort of custody issue, some sort of rift. I love that I’ve gotten to see families being built and then I also help patch them back together again, luckily not the same families. I don’t have any repeat customers. Everybody’s weddings have – for the most part, I think they’re all still happily together, but it is funny having a full circle in that sense.

Casey Arrillaga: I can’t help but think that you are sometimes working on a custody case with somebody who’s working on their recovery from addiction, and they’re getting close to reuniting with their child and they relapse. How do you deal with that?

Abigail Seymour: Yeah, I have a case like that right now actually. The person just disappeared. It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking because it affects everyone. There are extended family members who are counting on being able to visit with the child when the parent comes back in. I think people have varying levels of compassion and understanding of that family member. It’s understandable. Some of them are ninjas in Al Anon. They’ve been doing a lot of Al Anon. They really understand it. Then some of them are furious and blaming and a lot of pain involved. I feel a tremendous amount of compassion and love for that person because they have a disease and they’re struggling. It is hard to go back to the court and say, oh, we were on the road to making this happen. Again, back to what we were talking about, I understand also miracles happen. Things change. There’s always a new day. That person might get sober tomorrow and start that clock all over again or even today they might get sober. Seeing so many wonderful recovery stories has given me the sense that it’s never over until it’s over.

On that note, I’m going to two funerals this week from dear friends from the program, one of whom died from liver failure from drinking and another who died of an overdose, people who have been sober for years. It’s really sad. It’s not like it’s, oh, it’s always happy and everybody recovers and everybody is okay. You get that daily [20:59] and that’s all you can hope for. You’re right. It is very difficult to understand from the family’s perspective that whatever progress had been made, now that clock gets reset, but I don’t feel like that clock has been turned off. It just means we’re just going to have to wait a bit longer for that person to keep doing that work to get better so that they can continue their reunification.

Casey Arrillaga: We never hope for a relapse, but we know that for some people, that is the learning experience they need to be able to get more serious or more dedicated to their recovery program. That is sometimes a necessary step on the road to recovery. I often would say you’re not actually starting over because you’re not coming back to recovery saying, “Gosh, I don’t know how many steps there are or I don’t know how SMART recovery works.” You have that experience now and you can bring a greater depth of emotion to it.

Abigail Seymour: Right, yeah, absolutely. I saw this show recently on HBO called Mare of Easttown. The entire show is about addition and recovery and custody. She’s a grandparent. She lost a child who died of suicide and another one who has addiction. There’s a grandparent custody case involved. It’s just fascinating how it’s a huge part of the fabric of this country right now, whether it’s alcohol or opioids or whatever. It’s just underneath everything we’re doing somehow, touches everyone’s lives. In so many cases, definitely in criminal law and in custody, if something has gone haywire, there’s very likely an addict somewhere in the story just because that’s how the dysfunction expresses itself. It’s in all the cases in one way or another.

Casey Arrillaga: So true, and because so many people are caught up in this, each with their own point of view, I’d like to get your perspective on some of the major ways people are faced with the issues around family law. There are the people with addictions who are in recovery or at least trying to be. There are the spouses, partners, and co-parents. Then there’s the extended family, such as grandparents. I’d like to hear what you might say to someone who’s unfamiliar with these issues and perhaps suddenly find themselves thrust into them. Let’s start with a person who has an addiction. What would you say to them if they’re listening to this podcast right now?

Abigail Seymour: That’s a great question. If somebody is listening to this program who is in active addiction and has small children, the kindest thing they can do for themselves and their children is to focus on their recovery and to trust that there may be somebody else who can better care for the kids right now so that they can take that time to get well, that it doesn’t prejudice the court against them for having done what was best for their children. Because in all states, the law is different from state to state. What they call the polar star is the best interest of the child, that a sober parent is always going to be better for the kids, and to trust that that will ultimately pay off in the long run as far as that relationship. I’ve often said this to clients. I’m like, “You know what? The court really doesn’t care about grownups. They just care about the kids. If you can think about truly who’s best at taking care of your kids while you’re focusing on yourself if you’re in recovery, then that’s the thing to consider.”

Casey Arrillaga: Let’s say that they’re either in treatment or newly sober, and of course, wherever the focus has been, what I’ve seen in my clients is that they’re suddenly saying, “Oh, my gosh, the kids, I need to make sure that I get or retain custody,” or “I’m in treatment. My spouse is leaving me. I’m afraid for what that’s going to mean. They’re going to use everything against me.” What do you say to someone who’s getting newly sober and worried about those issues?

Abigail Seymour: I think one thing that could be reassuring to people is that parenting is a constitutional right. A parent has what we call superior rights over all others. The way that those rights can be taken away is if you demonstrate that you’re not acting consistently with those rights. That becomes when you get into abuse and abandonment and neglect and things like that, but if you’re saying, “I’m sacrificing my time with my children in order to better exercise my rights at a later time because I am ill,” it’s not like possession is [25:30] law. Your child is not a possession and not being with them is not going to necessarily prejudice the case against you. It’s actually to your advantage to say, “I am doing what’s best for my child right now, which is that they’re going to have more time with their mom right now or their aunt or whomever while I get better.”

I think that that sense of clutching, “Oh, I don’t want to lose them. I’m going to lose them,” that you can’t lose them without due process, first of all. It’s not going to just happen. Nobody is going to just walk up and take your kids away without you knowing what’s going on and without you being given the chance and many, many chances to show that you are fit. That’s what it comes down to is that those rights are very hard to remove. Rest assured that that’s not going to just happen and that focusing on your recovery is going to show and continue to demonstrate to the court that you are indeed valuing that constitutional right and working hard to act consistently with it.

Casey Arrillaga: Very much so, being in treatment, going to recovery meetings, engaging in your recovery, those are things that demonstrate that you’re acting in the best interest of your child.

Abigail Seymour: Absolutely.

Casey Arrillaga: If they find that the other parent is making those threats saying, “Well, I’m going to use all your past against you. I’m going to get sole custody”?

Abigail Seymour: The threats are easy to make, but again, those rights are real hard to dislodge. A person in recovery who’s working towards getting better, the past is quickly flying through your window. You’re right. Those kinds of threats can be made to throw someone off, but once you get down to it, the law doesn’t support that. Sole custody, again, it’s hard to do. You have to really prove that person is unfit. Unfitness is a vague term, but it is also not defined by somebody who’s trying to get well and going to meetings and going to treatment. That is not the definition of unfitness. It’s the opposite. That’s the definition of a fit parent who’s doing what they need to do.

Casey Arrillaga: Fantastic, now I want to switch to the co-parent’s point of view. If somebody is married or has had a child with someone who struggles with addiction, either active or in recovery, they’re coming into your office saying, “What can I do?” What do you tell them?

Abigail Seymour: A lot of times people fantasize about being able to say, “I’m going to try to make that person’s rights,” just like we were saying. They never want them to see the child again. It’s sometimes our job to disavow them of that idea because it’s just not possible. What the parent can do to protect the child is to request the minimum time that a person would get rid of a child would be under what we call supervised visitation. That’s often where someone is going to start. I think it’s important to know that there’s humility involved in that. In our state, you have to pay to go to a state-run nice lovely little house. They have cameras. They have people taking notes. They have signing in, signing out. It costs $75 an hour. It’s pretty intense and it’s pretty humbling. The parent, who would be the one anxious about all this, can rest assured your child is completely safe. They’re in a place that is supervised.

Then what may happen is maybe those supervised visitations would graduate to a family member supervising. Just for the afternoon, they’re going to be at a grandparent’s house or an aunt’s house and they’re going to have dinner with that parent who has just gotten out of treatment, let’s just say. That’s the minimum that they’re going to get. It’s important to know they’re not going to get nothing because it’s better for the child to have contact with both parents, no matter what their state of mind is. Again, it goes back to what we’re saying. That all depends on the recovering person. It’s just like anything else. It starts with a process, but that can reassure that other parent they don’t have to just go and go back to this instant 50/50 custody or whatever was happening before. They can start with a slower process to protect the child.

Casey Arrillaga: I imagine you must run into some clients who are co-parenting with someone who has an addiction. That person with the addiction is in recovery, say treatment or early recovery for a few months, stuff like that. Your client may not understand addiction very much. They have a lot of fear around it. What would you say to them?

Abigail Seymour: I would say, “This is not legal advice, but I would recommend that you seek out a program of Al Anon or do some reading and understand and get some support around what they’re dealing with.” Again, I would just say that the child is going to have a relationship with that person and to try and help that other party succeed. There’s going to be a lot of changes that happen, especially depending on what’s gone on in the relationship or how much damage has been done. At that point, that’s when they need to come and see you.

Casey Arrillaga: Thank you very much for all of that. I guess now we’ll move on to the extended family. You said that grandparents may find themselves sometimes with very little warning needing to step in.

Abigail Seymour: Oh, yeah.

Casey Arrillaga: What do you see happening there? What do you say to someone listening to this program who may either be in that position or may see it on the horizon?

Abigail Seymour: In North Carolina, at least, grandparents have no custody rights and really don’t even have visitation rights, which is sometimes very upsetting for people to realize. A grandparent can’t get legal custody or visitation unless there is already a case going on between parents. That’s a little different from what I’m about to describe, but that’s the tradition involvement. The other way that grandparents often involved in cases that I see would be an emergency custody. You have to prove the child’s in imminent danger of physical harm or sexual abuse or being taken out of the state, in which case you can petition the court to immediately issue an order this afternoon to go get those kids and bring them to the grandparent, let’s just say, on a temporary basis. Then there’ll be a hearing in a few days for the other party to come in and go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” or not appear or it can bounce all different types of ways. It’s a pretty extreme way for a grandparent to get involved if there is danger, and often there is when there is somebody in active addiction, of course.

The way that I have been dealing with some grandparent issues lately, which I was mentioning earlier, is a grandparent will come to me and say, “My child died last week of a fentanyl overdose.” I’ve had three clients in one week from different parts of the state, one from a different state entirely, with exactly the same situation. It’s so sad. They now have little kids, people in their 60s. The other parent is either not alive or is in jail or is not available in some way. That grandparent can’t register the child for school, can’t take them to the doctor. They have no rights. We have had a couple cases like that where it’s the grandparent against the deceased parent and then the other parent, who may or may not be in consent with all of this. In a perfect world, that other parent will consent to, yes, let’s go ahead and enter into an agreement that you’re going to take the kids. Without that piece of paper, without that agreement, the grandparent has no rights to take care of the kids. It’s awful.

I think what’s hard is that they’re also dealing with the death of their own child, the grief of that, the pain of suddenly needing to become a parent to young children and deal with all the issues of whatever age they are, the children’s grief that they’re going through. It’s a very heavy scenario that I’m seeing a lot because of what’s going on with opioids in particular. All of them have been opioid overdose. That’s the different ways that grandparents can get involved. The main thing is that, again, the center and why I love this kind of law is because it’s all about the kids and about what is going to be best for them. You can do a lot of things that adults might not like, but we all can agree, if it’s best for the kids, people will do it. That’s what I love about all these cases is that, at the very end of the day, the one thing they have in common is that they love the child. I think that’s really beautiful and that means people are willing to go to any lengths to do what they need to do.

Casey Arrillaga: That is beautiful. Do you actually deal with the kids much?

Abigail Seymour: I do. I love when they come in. Like I said, we have little art projects that they do. They have artworks that we put on our walls. We can’t their pictures on the walls, but we can put the art, so I have some wonderfully abstract bizarre things that toddlers have done. We have lollipops. I want them to feel comfortable when they come here. They don’t know who we are and what we do, but again, I just love being able to see them. Sometimes it really helps me to see their faces, even if it’s just in a picture, because that’s who we’re fighting for.

Casey Arrillaga: Absolutely, so to start to wrap up our interview, knowing you can’t give any identifying information, can you tell me about a success story that you’ve seen that was meaningful for you and that might give hope to some family listening out there?

Abigail Seymour: Yes, and this is one of my favorite stories. It’s still ongoing. I can’t say that it’s a happy ending, but it’s a client that’s very close to my heart, has been somebody who was in active addiction, was incarcerated, gave birth to a child in prison, and gave her child temporarily to a family member while she was still in prison. She’s now got several years clean. She’s had another child. She’s married. She works a program. She [35:32] girl scout cookies. She’s an amazing resurrection story. She now has pretty much 50/50 custody with that other family member. Of course, she would very much like to get her custody back. Unfortunately, when a case is filed, that doesn’t ever really go away because that person will always be involved with the child in one way or another, but the success of it is, as frustrated as she’s been by how long it’s taken, she just continues to flourish and blossom and get more time and more of a relationship with her child and more of a joyful contrast with where this whole story started, which was just fending for her. She felt like she signed things she didn’t understand what was going on. It was just chaos [36:18].

She had tried to get clean and sober a few times prior to this. This has been her longest stretch in recovery. She is just an amazing dedicated person to her child and understands that the best thing she can do is keep working her program and stay clean. Even though there had been procedural delays, she has continued to nurture that relationship with the family member, even though it’s been adversarial, and with her child. That just opened up the door that we kept talking about opening with that trust because she’s building that trust. It started out with very minimal visitation and has just grown to this amazing relationship and more and more time. I just love watching her reap the benefits of her hard work with regards to her child. She’s somebody who’s an example of the process working and the law being in her favor because she meets all those legal standards of substantial change of circumstances that benefits the child. She’s a great example of how that works and how that does get her where she wants to be, which is to spend as much time as she can with her child.

Casey Arrillaga: Wonderful, and all because of recovery.

Abigail Seymour: All because of recovery, yeah.

Casey Arrillaga: That’s fantastic. I’ll ask two relatively brief questions. Number one, any summarizing thoughts that you want to say to family members, whatever position they’re in, who are listening to this?

Abigail Seymour: I don’t have anything specific to the law. It’s just what I would say to anybody who loves somebody who [37:55], we love them for who they are. We accept them for who they are and who they’re not, and that we do the best we can to not make anybody’s journey any harder than it already is, but that they’re not doing something to us or to their child because of some of the things that I know people come in who don’t understand addiction and who are so angry at that family member, but that it’s a disease. Once we have the compassion and love for that person, it can help us really allow them to do what they need to do to clean up the wreckage of their past, whether that’s legal with criminal charges, or like I said, having active ones inconsistently with those constitutional rights, trust that they want to gain those moments back and give them the space to do that. Sometimes that means they’re not going to always like losing the “power” that they may have over that person, because while the person is sick, they get to say, “Well, I’m the one who’s fixing everything and I’m the one taking care of this kid.” When they start to get better, it’s important to want to celebrate that, too, even if that means you’re going to maybe lose that what you feel is that powerful position because it’s not a good position to be in. You want to be able to open your heart to let them be fully who they are clean and sober and be the parents that they really need to be and who they really are in their deepest selves.

Casey Arrillaga: Good stuff. The last question is, where can people find you and your practice? Because I hope they do as a result of hearing this, but if they’re in a place where they can’t turn to you in your office, where would people look?

Abigail Seymour: People can find me at camino-law.com. I’m on Facebook under Camino Law. I have a little Instagram account, just Camino Law. One of the important journeys in my life was I walked across the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which is a spiritual pilgrimage. It was the year that I got sober, actually. I feel it’s very important to me. It’s a precious place of awakening and comradery and community and so I wanted to name my firm that. We’re in North Caroline. For people who are in other states, there are so many resources, I think. We have something in our area called the family justice center. If you’re struggling with this and you’re looking for an attorney, all bar associations in your state will have a listing of attorneys and a lot of them will be able to offer a reduced consult fee for anybody who calls asking for help. A lot of bar associations will do that. They have a list of places that will do a consultation for you. You’ll just find the state bar association and ask for family law attorneys and begin to ask them if anybody has any experience working with addiction. That’s probably the best place to start in whatever your area is.

Casey Arrillaga: Fantastic, well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

Abigail Seymour: I’m so glad. I appreciate you being willing to dive into this topic because I think it’s really fascinating. I just think, oh, everybody knows about this, but it is [41:10] but thanks for being interested in it. I really appreciate it.

Casey Arrillaga: Thank you. That’s our interview with Abigail Seymour of Camino Law.

Thanks for being with us through another episode of Addiction and the Family. As they say in many recovery meetings, take what you liked and leave the rest. Go out and explore the possibilities for recovery in your life and give your loved ones the space and dignity to make their own choices. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe. It means a lot to us. If you know anyone else who could use what we have to offer, please tell them about Addiction and the Family. If you have comments about this podcast, have a question you’d like answered on the show, or want to contribute your voice, or just want to say hi, you can write to us at addictionandthefamily@gmail.com. We’re also happy to be your friend on Facebook and we can be found tweeting on Twitter.

Kira Arrillaga: Addiction and the Family is produced, written, and engineered by Kira and Casey Arrillaga, with music by Casey.

Casey Arrillaga: There will be more for you to type here!