Court-ordered drug testing

Court-ordered drug testing

A court-ordered drug test is usually a legal requirement to prove that an individual is, or is remaining, drug-free. In family law cases involving child custody, a court-ordered drug test may be required to safeguard children. A solicitor may order a drug test to prove their client’s abstinence. Private fee-paying individuals can also request drug testing to help further their cause in legal proceedings.

What are the types of court-ordered drug tests?

There is a wide variety of legal drug tests where the reports are used in court. The choice of test will depend on what substance needs to be detected and what window of detection is required.

AlphaBiolabs offers four types of legal drug test:

  • Hair (both head and body)
  • Nail clippings
  • Oral fluid (saliva)
  • Urine

Family law courts regularly use hair drug testing because it offers a window of detection of up to 12 months. In addition, if there is sufficient sample, head hair samples can be segmented to provide month-by-month analyses, which can give a historic pattern of drug intake. Body hair can be analysed if there is insufficient head hair to provide up to a 12-month overview, but this form of testing cannot determine a specific timeframe of drug use.

Nail clippings is a useful form of testing which can be used when there is insufficient hair available. Nail drug testing can provide a 6-month overview of drug use.

A saliva sample is useful for detecting recent drug use and allows for non-invasive specimen collection. Oral fluid testing is quick and produces immediate results. It detects recent drug use from 30–60 minutes after ingestion up to 2 days, although this can depend on the particular substance taken. Similarly, urine drug testing has a period of detection of only a few days, although, again, this can depend on the particular substance taken. Most drugs will be flushed out of your body in a matter of days. Drugs including cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA can be present in urine for roughly 3–5 days, but cannabis can stay in urine for as long as 28 days after chronic use.

Both oral fluid and urine testing are known as ‘narrow-window’ forms of testing as they cannot detect drug usage over a longer period of time.

Who pays for a drug test in family court?

The question of who pays for a drug test in family court comes down to whether it is a private family law case, such as a custody dispute, or a public law case such as that handled by local authorities.

In most instances where a case is being brought by private individuals in Family Court, the parties involved will need to pay any drug testing fees.

However, cases being handled by local authorities can sometimes be eligible for legal aid to cover the cost of the test(s), provided they meet certain criteria.

Typically, a case can be considered eligible for legal aid if the drug test has been requested by a judge, provided the test has been carried out as instructed in the court order.

You can check whether your case is eligible for legal aid here.

How are samples collected for court-ordered cases?

Because legal drug tests need to stand as evidence in court they need to be performed under specific instructions, known as chain of custody. This means that the donor’s sample must be collected under supervised observation to deter any form of adulteration or tampering. As such, the sample does not leave the custody of those who are legally responsible for ensuring the authenticity of its results.

AlphaBiolabs has a network of trained sample collectors that can ensure the correct individual is providing the sample by checking ID, taking photographs and getting signed paperwork. A medical professional, such as a GP, may also be able to collect the samples and send them securely back to the AlphaBiolabs for testing. Legal samples can also be collected for free at our nationwide Walk in Centres.

Can a parent lose custody for a positive drug test result?

A positive drug test result does not necessarily mean that a parent will lose custody of their child(ren).

However, the result of the drug test, along with any other relevant expert reports, will be considered when the court is making a decision regarding custody and contact orders.  

Family courts are usually keen to ensure families remain together, as this is often in the best interests of the child. For this reason, the court will consult what is known as a ‘welfare checklist’, including:

  • How capable the parents are of taking care of the child
  • The needs of the child in line with their age and any emotional, physical, and educational needs they might have
  • Whether the child has ever come to harm while in the care of the parent(s)
  • How any changes to their home life and surroundings might affect the child

This enables the judge to make an informed decision on a case-by-case basis. However, it is worth noting that if the judge considers drug use to be detrimental to the welfare of the child, or there is evidence to suggest the child has come to harm while a parent was under the influence of drugs, they may decide to remove custodial rights.  

For information on any of AlphaBiolabs’ legal drug testing services, call us on 0333 600 1300 or email us at

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AlphaBiolabs is an accredited laboratory offering a range of drug testing services.