Felony offenses and convictions can have an impact on parental rights. Courts look at the criminal history of parents to determine what’s in the best interest of the child concerning living arrangements, parenting time and visitation rights.
The Best Interest of the Child
A felony conviction can have a significant impact on a person’s parental rights. Having a criminal record can negatively impact a parent’s chance of being awarded custody, parenting time, and visitation rights. However, the circumstances surrounding criminal history, felony convictions, and other factors can influence the court’s decision concerning the outcome of parental rights.
In divorce and child custody cases, the court is allowed to consider a parent’s criminal history and the impact it may have on a parent’s ability to raise a child. If a parent has a criminal history of violence, even if it occurred before the child was born, it can have a negative impact on determination of custody and other parental rights. The court considers criminal activity relative to the character and morality of the parent. In addition to criminal history, the court may also consider other relevant factors like the age of the child or children in the house, the parents’ relationship with each other, and the child or children’s relationship with each parent.
In all cases, the court will put the best interest of the child ahead of other factors. If the court determines that a parent’s criminal history and/or felony convictions are not in the best interest of the child, the parent may lose his/her parental rights or rights may be severely restricted to protect the child. When considering criminal history, the court may give weight to other factors including:
- Victim identity and harm caused to the victim
- Age of the crime and conviction
- Type and severity of the offense
- Length of the imposed jail or prison sentence
- Patterns of criminal activity
- Multiple criminal convictions
If a parent’s crimes involve domestic violence or sexual abuse against a spouse or child/children in the home, the court will likely terminate or restrict that parent’s rights to protect the safety of the child and family members. Domestic violence crimes are particularly relevant to the determination of child custody decisions. Many states have a domestic violence presumption in which the court is permitted to assume that granting custody or visitation to an abusive parent is not in the best interest of the child. This is particularly true when a criminal attorney sees cases of violence perpetrated against the child. Statistics show that over one million children witness incidents of domestic violence each year in their home, and children who are victims of domestic violence or witness it growing up are often afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders and long-term emotional and psychological problems.
Criminal Charges vs Criminal Convictions
According to law, there’s a difference between being charged with a crime and being convicted of a crime. Although a criminal charge may raise suspicions of guilt, it is not actually proved that a person committed a crime. In child custody cases, a criminal attorney who’s defending the parent charged with the crime can argue that the charge should not be considered as evidence of the parent’s character and morality since no conviction has occurred. In most states, courts usually put less weight on a charge than they do a conviction. However, depending on the nature of the charge and its severity and relevance to child custody situations, the court may consider it. The defendant has the burden of proving that continued custody, parenting time, or visitation is in the best interests of the child. In cases where a child or family member was the victim of the crime, the court typically considers that enough proof to deny parental rights.
Convictions and Parental Rights in Minnesota
According to Minnesota statutes, felony convictions for serious offenses such as murder, manslaughter, assault, kidnapping, and sexual assault will likely result in termination of parental rights. In Minnesota, any reputable person, including any agent of the commissioner of human services, may petition the juvenile court to terminate a parent’s rights, if he/she has knowledge of circumstances that it’s in the best interest or safety of the child. The termination of parental rights can only occur after a hearing before the court.
In Minnesota, a conviction of domestic violence can also terminate parental rights. A judge will take into account factors including physical abuse, verbal abuse, and sexual assault. In cases where a protective order exists against a parent, a judge will not grant custody. In some cases, a judge may grant supervised visitations to take place at a court designated place. The court will shield the child to prevent further abuse or placing the child in any situation that could endanger his physical, mental, or emotional safety.