Learn how your criminal record may affect your ability to secure custody or visitation rights.
When determining whether or not parents will share custody of their children, the court’s primary objective is to provide for the best interests of the children. Typically this is assumed to be ample contact with both parents, except in certain circumstances where one parent may be deemed unfit for this responsibility. A criminal past may be one such circumstance, but it does not necessarily have to be a permanent impediment to time with your kids.
What Kinds of Convictions May Be Considered?
Under Family Code section 3011, the court is given broad powers to consider any factors that it deems relevant to a parent’s fitness for physical custody or visitation. This can potentially include convictions for any type of crime as well as any evidence of past criminal conduct that the child’s other parent may present. However, in most cases the court is only concerned with criminal conduct that relates to parenting and affects the child’s safety or well-being. For example, a conviction for or even a history of domestic violence would be very detrimental to your attempts to gain custody, as would a history of sex crimes or crimes involving drugs or alcohol. Convictions for white collar crimes such as fraud are typically given less weight. The court will also consider the amount of time that has passed since the crime and whether you can present evidence that you have reformed.
Will Expunging a Conviction Help?
While expungement offers a means of “erasing” certain types of criminal convictions from your official record so that potential employers don’t see them, government entities will still see these records, and the court may consider them when making a judgment in a child custody case. However, going through the effort of getting an expungement can still help your case, as a court may perceive it as evidence that you have rehabilitated yourself from your past criminal conduct.
When to Seek Child Custody Modifications
Either parent may initiate a petition to modify the custody or visitation agreement under appropriate circumstances. For example, if you have relapsed into criminal conduct your co-parent may attempt to use this to get joint custody revoked, to require supervision for visits, or to revoke visitation altogether. However, as time passes and you continue to be law-abiding, comply with all requirements of the custody agreement, and demonstrate responsible parenting, you may be able to convince the court that you deserve the ability to exercise more of your parental rights to your children. Completing all the terms of your probation as well as undergoing substance abuse treatment or anger management counseling as may be appropriate can also be powerful factors in influencing the court to give you more time with your kids.