New Jersey family law Courts weighing child custody matters will put the best interests of the child above almost all else. If one parent is arrested or facing criminal charges, this can significantly impact the way a child custody case unfolds. That is true for pending litigation, but it can also be cited as a substantial change in circumstance to alter an existing parenting agreement.
That said, much will depend on the type, severity, context and frequency of the crime at issue. A criminal record or arrest on its own may not be enough to reduce or revoke one’s parenting time. Not all crimes are equal.
If the case involves a violent assault (particularly involving you or your child), the Court may consider this highly pertinent because the physical and mental well-being of the child may be on the line. However, if it’s an unrelated misdemeanor or something fairly minor, the Court may not consider it at all in relation to custody or parenting time.
Does it Impact One’s Parenting Ability?
As our Freehold child custody attorneys can explain, a central question the Court is going to ask is the extent to which the crime and/or penalties impact one’s ability to safely and effectively parent. The criminal charges in question may not relate directly to child custody, but it can still affect the Court’s decision on whether it impacts the child’s best interests. It is possible to establish that a parent’s arrest or convictions adversely impact his/her ability to care for the child.
For example, a conviction for drunk driving could be considered part of a pattern of poor decisions and reckless behavior that might warrant certain parenting time restrictions. This is especially true in cases of repeat offenses or those that occurred when children were present. Crimes like domestic violence, child abuse, stalking, and sexual assault are going to be given more weight in family Court.
Frequency of Crimes
A single, minor crime committed a decade ago isn’t likely to have much impact on a pending child custody case. However, if that crime was the start of a pattern that has been ongoing ever since, that’s something about which the Court will be concerned.
If nothing else, it might seem as if the parent is unable to follow Court orders, which is essential for parenting time orders to be effective. Numerous convictions and long sentences could also be indicators of poor judgment, mental health struggles or substance abuse problems - all of which can be factored into child custody and parenting time plans.
Who Were the Victims?
A family law Court will take note of the identity of the victims. For example, in a shoplifting case, the victim is a store. But the Court may look at it a bit differently if the theft involved a close friend or family member, it may give the Court more pause. If an assault occurred, was the victim a relative or total stranger? There is no hard-and-fast rule about this, but it’s been the experience of our Freehold custody lawyers that the closer to home the victim, the more precarious the parenting time claim might become.
Also, child victims will be of particular concern to family law Courts in child custody and parenting time cases.
Barred From Custody by Statute
In general, Courts are going to consider the situation in its entirety before deciding custody. That includes whether the parent in question has made efforts to refrain from criminal activity and do their best to abide by the law. However, there are situations wherein they are bound by statute not to award custody to those convicted of certain crimes - namely, sex crimes.
NJ Rev Stat 9:2-4.1 holds that anyone convicted of sexual assault (as outlined in N.J.S. 2C:14-2) shall not be awarded custody or visitation rights of any minor child - including a minor child born as a result of or who was the victim of sexual assault. The only exception to this is when clear and convincing evidence can establish that doing so is in the best interests of the child - a high bar in such a situation. In the event custody or visitation is granted under those circumstances, the Court mandates it doesn’t go into effect for at least 10 days so the other parent has a chance to appeal.
Beyond this, it is difficult to say with any certainty that an arrest or conviction will impact child custody. If this is a concern that has arisen involving your minor children, it is not something you want to leave to chance. It is imperative to reach out to a New Jersey child custody attorney who can answer your questions and advise you on navigating the next steps.
Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.