Can You Lose Custody in Utah Because of a Criminal Record?

Custody battles can be extremely difficult.  One of the things that often stresses parents out the most in these cases is the question of whether the court will accept them as a fit parent and allow them to keep shared custody or visitation rights.  In fact, this scares many parents away from the courts, leaving them to resolve custody battles on their own without going to a judge for fear that their criminal record or past issues will strip them of custody.  Our Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers at Overson Law explain some of the ways that a criminal record can affect your custody dispute and how you can work to avoid that negative impact.

Will a Criminal Record Affect My Custody Case in Utah?

Courts typically are focused on the best interests of the child during a child custody dispute in Salt Lake City or Utah.  This means that they will typically award primary custody to the parent who is most fit and able to raise the children.  However, courts prefer that children have 2 parents, and even if they award primary custody to one parent, they may still award shared custody or visitation rights to the other parent.  Courts typically only strip a parent of custody rights or limit their custody rights to anything less than shared custody if they see the parent as a risk to the child.

A parent with a criminal record may, on paper, seem instantly riskier than a parent without a criminal record.  However, courts should typically look deeper than the parents’ resumes or rap sheets when making custody decisions.  For instance, a parent with a 6-figure salary convicted of minor fraud charges 8 years ago may have a criminal record, but they may still be better able to provide for the children than the other parent, in some cases.  Because of this, a criminal record is not automatically disqualifying.

Courts will see multiple convictions or convictions for violent crimes as some of the most dangerous issues on a rap sheet.  If your convictions show that you have a problem with violence or anger – or shows a history of domestic violence or child abuse – your record is more likely to harm your custody claim.  Similarly, courts also see convictions for drug crimes as very serious issues, since it means that there is a chance you could be a negligent or dangerous parent if you have drugs in the house, you have an addiction that might interfere with your parenting abilities, or you have associates who are drug dealers and potentially violent offenders.

In most cases, a criminal record should be just one of many factors the court considers in their analysis.  In many cases, older convictions might not be indicative of who you are today, and minor offenses like disorderly conduct or drunk driving might not say enough about you as a person that the court can use those to strip you of custody entirely.  Additionally, the court will often compare the two parents when making decisions, so your criminal record will be weighed against the other parent’s criminal record if you both have a history with crime, and the court might make a decision between the two based in part on which record is not “as bad.”  However, there is always the risk that the court might find neither parent to be fit and try to place the child in foster care or with a grandparent or other relative.

Getting a Criminal Record Erased to Help with Custody Cases in Utah

If your criminal record is especially old or if you have already served your debt to society and paid off all fines in your case, you may be entitled to get your criminal convictions expunged from your record.  This can help you in a custody battle since the court will not have a record of convictions to look at when making custody determinations.

Expungement usually must take place after a significant waiting period, but it works to clear a conviction from your record and prevent background checks from turning up a record of the conviction.  However, only some people are eligible for expungement, and only some crimes can be expunged.

Although the record might be officially sealed, courts do usually have the power to see the unsealed record.  This means that the court might be able to use their powers to see your criminal record anyway and use that evidence in a custody hearing.  However, a judge who knows that a conviction was old enough to be expunged usually understands that it does not represent you as a person today.  Additionally, a spouse or former dating partner who knows you previously committed crimes might be able to report those crimes to the judge even if your record was expunged.  Again, though, a court does not have to weigh this evidence strongly against you if the conviction was old or insignificant.

If I Am Convicted of a Crime, Will I Lose Custody of My Kids?

Of course, the better way to avoid having a criminal record affect your custody case is to avoid being convicted in the first place.  If you have a case pending against you such as welfare fraud charges in Salt Lake City and you are worried it might affect current or future custody cases, it is vital to speak with an attorney immediately.  Our lawyers can work to get charges dropped and dismissed, potentially helping you keep custody.

Call Our Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation

If you are facing potential criminal charges or already have a conviction on your record, our attorneys might be able to fight the case against you or work to appeal or expunge other convictions.  The Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers at Overson & Bugden offer free legal consultations to help you understand what we can do to help you with your case and to discuss your legal issues.  For your free legal consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.