How Could My Criminal Record Impact My Custody Case?
Clients often ask how having a criminal record can impact their custody cases. There is no simple answer, as it varies widely depending on a client’s circumstances. All parties in a custody case in Pennsylvania are required to submit a criminal record form, on which they will need to report certain crimes, as well as PFA Orders (Protection from Abuse orders) filed against them and involvement with Children and Youth Services.
Only certain crimes are required to be included on a client’s criminal record form; specifically, crimes that are listed under 23 Pa.C.S. § 5329 must be included. The crimes listed include, of course, murder and rape, but also some more common offenses such as DUIs. Just because a party has been charged with or convicted of a crime listed on the criminal record form, however, does not mean that that crime will necessarily have a negative effect on their custody matter. The Court will typically consider the seriousness of the offense, the client’s other criminal charges or convictions, the recency of any criminal offenses, rehabilitation efforts the party has made, and other factors.
In some cases, a party may be required to undergo a 5329 Risk of Harm Evaluation, performed by a licensed mental health professional, to evaluate whether they pose a risk of harm to the child(ren) involved in the custody case and if so, how that risk of harm can be mitigated. Drug and alcohol evaluations or psychological evaluations are also ordered in some cases, depending on the nature of the offense and surrounding circumstances.
While some parties may be entirely precluded from exercising custody of a child due to their criminal record, this is relatively rare. Supervised visits are a more common tool used to ensure that parties can safely have contact with children. Supervised visits may continue for the duration of a case, but they are more commonly in place for a limited amount of time, typically until a party can establish that the child(ren) will be safe in their unsupervised care. Other common tools which may alleviate safety concerns related to criminal convictions are include drug and alcohol tests and compliance with mental health treatment, as many parties’ criminal charges or convictions arise when they are experiencing drug and alcohol dependency or mental health concerns.