A Former Prosecutor Defending Clients in Wyoming and South Dakota

5 Questions About Criminal Convictions and Child Custody

Child custody hearings are contentious, even in the best of circumstances. But if you’re fighting for custody of your children and have a criminal record, or if you lost custody of your children due to criminal activities, fighting for custody of your children can be very difficult. In extreme cases, couples fighting for child custody have even made false allegations of criminal activity against one another to try to gain the upper hand in a child custody case.

If you are fighting for custody of your child and have a criminal conviction, or if you have been charged with a crime during a child custody battle, the other parent might try to use your criminal record as leverage in a child custody case.

Here, we answer questions about how a criminal record can affect a child custody hearing.

What Do Courts Consider When Making Child Custody Decisions?

When determining child custody, Wyoming courts will consider the best interests of the child. In an effort to make a custody decision that best serves the interests of the children, the judge in a child custody case will assess each parent’s personalities. Whether one or both parents has a criminal record is a factor that must be considered and is relevant to determining what is in the best interests of the child. Many judges believe that a criminal conviction reflects on the morality and character of a parent.

When it comes to a criminal conviction and its effect on child custody, judges will consider:

  • Who the victim was
  • The nature of the crime
  • How long ago the crime was committed
  • The type of sentence the parent received
  • Whether there is a pattern of criminal activity or whether the conviction was an isolated event

If the crime involved a family member, and especially if the victim was a minor, it is likely that the judge will limit the parent’s custody or visitation rights. In the most serious cases, the judge may even terminate a person’s parental rights.

Crimes involving drugs or alcohol and crimes of domestic violence are also not viewed favorably by judges and may indicate an inability to be an effective parent.

Similarly, convictions for violent crimes raise concerns about a person’s ability to be an effective parent.

The more recent the conviction, the more likely it is that the judge will consider it when making a decision about child custody. If your conviction happened years ago and you have not had any criminal convictions since, it is unlikely that a criminal conviction will have much of an impact on a judge’s decision about child custody. But if your conviction was recent, or if you were charged with a crime while child custody proceedings are pending, it is more likely that the judge will consider it and its effect on whether you can be a good parent.

Similarly, multiple criminal convictions or convictions that led to lengthy prison sentences are likely to have a negative impact on the judge’s decision about child custody.

What Types of Child Custody Arrangements Can a Judge Order?

A judge has broad discretion when evaluating the best interests of the children. A judge can award sole custody to one parent, shared custody, visitation, or supervised visitation. When making child custody decisions, the judge will need to evaluate a variety of factors. A criminal record is just one of the factors a judge will consider.

If you have a criminal conviction and are seeking custody of your children, you must establish to the judge that you can provide a safe and stable environment for your children.

What If You Are Charged with a Crime While Child Custody Proceedings Are Pending?

Being charged with a crime while child custody proceedings are pending is difficult. But remember–there is a big difference between being charged with a crime and being convicted of a crime. Being charged with a crime is not proof that you committed a crime.

If you are facing criminal charges while you have child custody proceedings pending, it is critical that you have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. You need to fully understand your rights, both in your criminal case and as they relate to custody of your children. You also need a criminal defense attorney who will aggressively defend you against the criminal charges and give you the best chance of minimizing the effect of the criminal charges on your child custody case.

Your child custody lawyer should argue to the domestic relations judge that the criminal charge should not be considered as evidence regarding your fitness as a parent because you have not been convicted of a crime. While a judge will likely consider a pending criminal case, they will probably give it less weight than an actual conviction.

Of course, having the criminal case dismissed is the best-case outcome for someone who is charged with a crime while fighting for custody of their child. In some cases, fighting for that outcome is the only way forward.

An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a plea to a lesser offense that will have less of an impact on your child custody case. A criminal defense lawyer will defend you against the criminal charges, and can work with your child custody attorney to present the criminal charges in the best light possible to minimize their effect on your child custody case.

Will Getting a Criminal Case Expunged Help in My Child Custody Case?

By having your record expunged you can truthfully answer, in all but a few limited circumstances, that you do not have a criminal record. Unfortunately, fighting for custody of your children is one of those circumstances where an expungement will be of little help.

Having your criminal record expunged does not shield your criminal record from law enforcement and court personnel. The judge in your child custody case will be able to access your full criminal record. It is better to explain to the judge making the child custody decision why you are a good parent despite your criminal history, rather than trying to avoid the question through an expungement.

How Can a Lawyer Help?

If you have been charged with a crime and are in the middle of a child custody battle, or if you are fighting for custody of your children and are concerned about how a criminal conviction will affect the judge’s decision in your child custody case, the team of criminal defense professionals at Just Criminal Law is here to help.

Our founder, attorney Christina L. Williams, spent years working as a prosecutor before opening her own criminal defense law firm. She has a keen understanding of the criminal justice system and how judges evaluate criminal cases. If you are fighting for custody of your children and have been charged with a crime, it is important that you work with a lawyer who understands how the system works, and who will fight to protect your one shot at justice.

At Just Criminal Law, we understand the need to defend yourself against allegations of criminal conduct, especially if these allegations come during a custody dispute. That’s why we’re committed to vigorously defending our clients against allegations of criminal conduct, and to working with domestic relations attorneys to help our clients who have criminal records succeed in their child custody battles.

We invite you to learn why clients choose us, get answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and to contact us today to schedule a personalized case review and strategy session.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.

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