How Do Criminal Convictions Affect Child Custody in New Jersey?

When couples who have a child or children divorce, one of the most important decisions that will be made is which party will get custody. In New Jersey, there are several types of child custody, including temporary, sole, joint, and split. When a child custody dispute is brought before a New Jersey family court, a judge will look into a number of factors to determine what is in the best interest of the child or children. Some of the factors to be considered are the physical safety of the child or children and fitness of each parent. Due to the fact that character and propensities are relevant to determining these factors, a judge may find a parent’s criminal history to be a significant factor in child custody proceedings.

How much a criminal conviction can impact child custody depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the offense, victim of the offense, how long it’s been since the offense occurred, the frequency of crimes committed, and the nature of the sentence. A court may give more weight to crimes that are violent or drug-related offenses. Offenses involving domestic violence, assault, battery, and stalking may be a significant factor in determining child custody, as the court system may worry about the parent’s anger management and tendency to commit violent acts. A judge may order a parent to take a follicle drug test if he or she has a prior drug-related conviction. A follicle drug test may reveal a person’s drug use within the past several months. If a parent tests positive for a drug test, the court will likely order that any visitation must be supervised.

Another factor that a court will take into consideration is the victim of the offense. A parent’s conviction that involves the emotional or physical injury of their child or children may result in the limitation of their child custody and visitation rights. The court may be concerned that if a parent had injured their child in the past, he or she could hurt the child again. If the conviction involves sexual assault or life-threatening injuries, the court has the potential to terminate a parent’s child custody and visitation rights completely.

A family court will take the age of the conviction into consideration when determining child custody. For example, if a parent has a drug possession conviction, introduces evidence that the offense was an isolated incident, the negative impact of the crime may be lessened. However, if the crimes committed were recent and demonstrate reckless or dangerous behavior or poor judgment, the court will be more inclined to weigh the offense heavily in a child custody proceeding.

The final factors a family court will take into consideration when determining child custody is the frequency of crimes committed and the nature of the sentence. A parent’s multiple convictions and lengthy sentences, regardless if the crimes are violent or not, may significantly impact child custody determinations. A family court may be concerned that if a parent has frequent convictions, he or she is unable to follow orders from a court of law. If a parent has faced lengthy sentences, the court may be concerned about a child’s stability as they don’t want the minor bouncing from relative to relative while a parent serves his or her sentence. If the other spouse is able to demonstrate that he or she is able to provide a stable living environment for the child or children, that parent may be more likely to be granted full custody.

If you are a New Jersey resident going through a divorce and you have children, it is imperative that you seek the guidance of a lawyer who is experienced in divorce proceedings and family law matters. Our New Jersey divorce and child custody lawyers can help you reach the best possible resolution regarding your child custody matters. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact our New Jersey divorce and child custody law office at (973) 256-0456.

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