How do previous criminal convictions affect child custody cases?

If you are going through a divorce, prior criminal convictions can have a significant impact on a judge’s custody decision. A judge might rule against a parent with a criminal record when it comes to custody of a minor child.

The best interests of the child are always the paramount concern of a judge when rendering a decision in a custody case. In New Jersey, it has been determined by the Legislature and the courts that an award of “joint” custody is in the best interests of the child. There is a presumption that a child’s best interests are generally fostered when both parents are involved with the child and the child is assured of frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Therefore, courts usually award some measure of legal and physical custody to each parent upon the parent’s divorce or separation.

However, the Courts are required to consider a child’s safety when rendering custody and parenting time decisions. If a parent has a history of domestic violence or criminal misconduct, the judge could determine that the child would be unsafe in the custody of that parent. Specifically, New Jersey law prohibits courts from entering an award of custody or visitation in favor of a person convicted of sexual assault, sexual contact, or child endangerment except upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence that such an award is in the child’s best interest.

Therefore, if the Court determines that the parent’s past crimes will put the child at risk of harm, the Court could deny custody to that parent. A judge could order the criminally convicted parent to attend parenting classes, anger management classes or other counselling services before they are even allowed to have any parenting time with the child. Additionally, a judge could severely limit parenting time, and order that it take place in a highly controlled and supervised setting.

If you are dealing with a past criminal conviction or a domestic violence conviction, the experienced family law attorneys at Edens Law Group can assist you with your custody and parenting time issues.