When you get a divorce in the state of Washington and there are children involved, part of the process involves setting up a parenting plan. This plan will determine the residential or physical custody for your children, which spells out where they will live, as well as visitation rights. It also determines legal custody, to make it clear who has the right to make important decisions about a child’s life, including education and health care.
The parenting plan is a form of court order, meaning that a judge will make a decision about what he believes is in the best interests of the child. There are many factors that the court will consider, but one big question that factors in is whether the plan can be affected by the criminal record of a parent.
Past Crimes May Affect Your Parenting Plan
If you or your former spouse have any form of criminal record, it can definitely affect your child custody arrangement. However, the court considers each child custody situation on a case-by-case basis, so a record isn’t necessarily a major roadblock to your case, and a criminal conviction will likely cause more concern than an arrest with no conviction.
The court may look at other factors when considering a prior record, including:
- Who was the victim? If the crime involved psychological harm or abuse to a child, the court is much more likely to restrict custody and visitation rights. If the crime was a violent one or a sex crime, parental rights may be removed entirely.
- What was the specific offense? The nature of the offense makes a big difference. Domestic violence or other violent crimes are of great concern to the court. Prior drug or alcohol abuse-related charges can also lead to court-ordered drug tests via blood or hair, and a positive test could severely impact custody rights.
- How old is the conviction? If it’s a single charge from a long time ago, it’s less likely to have a major impact on the custody situation, especially if the charge was a relatively minor one.
- Was it an isolated incident? A continued series of charges shows the court that the parent may not possess sound judgement. Much of the court’s concern is with how a parent’s lifestyle and past history of recklessness will affect the child’s current and future circumstances, so that a single and relatively minor “youthful indiscretion” from long ago is likely to have less of an impact than a string of more recent charges.
- What was the sentence? The length and nature of the sentence are also important, especially if it hasn’t been served yet or is currently being served. A prior charge with a long sentence, or a series of shorter sentences, can have a severe impact on custody because it shows the court that the parent in question may not be able to provide a stable living environment for the child.
The key factor that the court will use to determine custody arrangements is written simply in state law. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 26.10.100) states that “The court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child.” That’s the bottom line for the court, regardless of the wishes or interests of the parent.
What You Can Do
If you’re concerned that a criminal history could affect the outcome of your child custody situation, a Washington State child custody attorney may be able to help you. An attorney can provide you with the answers you need about your legal situation and assist you and your family through the divorce process from start to finish.
At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we have spent decades representing families facing all types of divorce and child custody issues. Going through a divorce is a challenging process, and we’re here to help you every step of the way. To speak to an experienced family law attorney about your custody case, please call us, or use the contact form to email us and arrange a private consultation here in our Bellevue office.