Child custody laws vary from state to state, but judges typically make decisions based on what is in the best interests of the child. During your custody case, you must be careful not to do anything that makes the judge question your ability to provide a safe, stable environment for any children in your care. One factor that can affect the judge's perception of you as a parent is a criminal conviction on your record. Minor offenses are not likely to affect the judge's decision, but a conviction for a violent crime or a crime that put others in danger can hurt your chances of gaining custody. If you have a criminal record, inform your child custody attorney right away so you can work together to determine how the conviction might affect your specific case.
Why Do Convictions Matter?
Criminal convictions matter in a custody case because they help the judge determine if the parent has good moral character. In some cases, a criminal conviction causes the judge to question a parent's mental stability, or even to wonder if a parent has committed criminal acts while his or her children were present. The judge is responsible for making a decision that ensures the safety and well-being of all minors involved in a custody case. Therefore, criminal convictions are considered along with factors such as the safety of the home environment and the emotional stability of the parent.
When assessing your criminal record, the judge will take into account the amount of time that has passed since the conviction. If your conviction was many years ago and you can demonstrate that you have made an effort to live a law-abiding life since then, the judge may decide that the conviction has no bearing on your custody case. The judge may not look so favorably on a recent conviction, especially if you committed the crime after your custody case was already in progress.
Type of Offense
The type and severity of the offense you committed can also influence a judge's decision in a custody case. Violent offenses, such as assault or robbery, are likely to hurt your case more than nonviolent offenses. Convictions related to domestic violence are especially damaging to a custody case, as some states have special laws governing the placement of a child with a person who has been convicted of domestic abuse or a related crime. For example, California has special law 3044, which prevents judges from granting custody to anyone convicted of domestic violence against a child, parent, spouse, or intimate partner or the other parent involved in the case. Under this special law, a judge can only grant custody to someone with a domestic violence conviction in the last five years if it is in the best interests of the child.
Custody issues are complex, and the existence of special laws and regulations makes it difficult to predict the outcome of any individual case. If you are seeking custody of a child, be sure to work with a professional child custody attorney, especially if you have a criminal record. Past convictions can hurt your custody case, especially if the conviction was for a violent crime, or if the crime took place within the past few years.