For a parent hoping to gain custody of their child, being convicted of a crime may be a source of anxiety. Can a conviction hurt a parent’s chances of winning a custody case, or even completely bar them from getting custody? The answer to this depends on the facts surrounding the criminal conviction and the custody dispute. Judges always scrutinize the circumstances of each case to arrive at one goal: the best interests of the child.
Let’s take a look at some of the important factors that a child custody judge may examine regarding a parent’s past conviction.
What was the nature of the offense?
There are crimes that may weigh more heavily than others when it comes to child custody cases. Family courts are naturally more averse when the conviction involved domestic violence. They also put much weight on drug or alcohol abuse, assault, battery, stalking, weapons offenses, and other violent crimes. A parent with such a conviction on their record may find it very difficult to convince the court to grant them custody.
On the other hand, low-level crimes such as DUI and trespassing may do less damage to the parent’s chances. In an optimistic scenario, a parent with a DUI conviction, for example, might be granted limited custody of the child.
Who was the victim of the offense?
Was the victim related to the parent or even the parent’s own child? The court might be concerned that a person who hurt their own child once might easily do it again. Further, if the conviction involved a high-level charge such as sexual abuse or physical injuries to someone within the family, the judge may decide to terminate the offender’s parental rights.
How many convictions are on the record?
It matters greatly whether the offense was an isolated incident or a number of law-breaking episodes. Family courts do not look kindly on multiple convictions, as it shows the parent’s disregard for the law and for the welfare of others. On the other hand, a single conviction – especially of a low-level charge – may have minimal impact on one’s child custody chances.
When did the conviction occur?
If the conviction is old, or if the offense was committed when the person was much younger, it is possible that the judge may not focus on it. The parent can assert that they have learned from their mistake and become a more upstanding citizen since then. In addition, present-day circumstances are typically more important to the court when determining the custody of a child.
But if the conviction occurred recently, especially during the divorce process or the custody case, it will show poor judgment or reckless behavior on the part of the offending parent. This is a complication that is difficult to overcome.
Does the other parent have a heavier conviction?
As mentioned, a low-level charge may have only a small effect on a parent’s child custody pursuit – and this is particularly likely if the other parent has a higher-level conviction. A spouse with a more severe crime on their record may be deemed less “fit” to care for the child. This can affect the type of custody granted as well as the parenting time.
Could your ex-spouse use your conviction against you?
Apart from the court’s examination of the child custody case, you must also consider your current relationship with the other parent. In contentious custody cases, a combative ex-spouse could use your prior conviction against you, painting you as the less fit parent. They may compound this with other issues around your family life such as anger management issues, frequent absences from the home, and accidents involving the child.
It is always best for ex-spouses – and for the child – to aim for an amicable divorce. But if this is not the case, you’ll want to arm yourself with a reliable family law attorney. This helps ensure that your rights as a parent are not infringed, and that you are able to fight for the best interests of your child. In Colorado, talk to us at Goldman Law for experienced child custody advice and representation.