Divorced parents arguing about child custody on light background

How a Criminal Record Affects Child Custody

Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. April 11, 2022

According to the latest published statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, in 2020, Pennsylvania was home to 58,960 marriages and 28,884 divorces. Both figures were down from previous years. For instance, in 2019, there were 68,512 marriages and 32,985 divorces. The downturn in 2020 has been attributed to pandemic-related lockdowns of courthouses and family law offices.

Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh, had 5,764 marriages and 2,025 divorces in 2020, ranking it the top county in Pennsylvania, edging out Philadelphia County.

When it comes to divorce, if there are children involved, then the issues of child custody, visitation rights, and child support payments loom large. In a custody fight – assuming the parents cannot agree on their own custody plan for court approval – the court will weigh several factors in determining the custody arrangement. One of the factors that could play a potentially large factor concerns if one of the partners has a criminal record.

If you’re considering divorce, or have already begun the process in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and you have both children and a criminal record, you need to contact me at Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. for detailed guidance. I am a family law attorney with years of experience helping clients facing divorce and child custody issues. I also proudly serve clients in O’Hara Township, Indiana Township, Oakmont Borough, Fox Chapel, Penn Hills, and Aspinwall, Pennsylvania.

What Are the Different Types of Custody?

Everyone is familiar with the terms sole custody and joint custody, but in Pennsylvania, custody is defined by who gets and who doesn’t get the right to physically spend time with the child.

Primary physical custody allows one parent to spend the majority of the time caring for the child. What many people consider joint custody is known as shared physical custody in Pennsylvania. It allows both parents to spend frequent time with the child.

In addition to these custodial arrangements, Pennsylvania also recognizes partial physical custody, by which one parent is given the right to unsupervised visitation, perhaps a few hours a week, one day a week, or every other weekend.

Supervised visitation, on the other hand, restricts one parent from visiting the child unless the other parent, a relative, or friend is there to monitor what’s happening. This is usually only ordered by the court when there is fear of physical or emotional violence.

In rare cases, the court may award sole physical custody to one parent while denying the other parent any physical custody.

What Factors Determine Custody?

In a majority of divorce cases, the divorcing couple will agree to a custody arrangement on their own, but some cases land in the lap of a judge to decide. This could be due to one parent’s distrust of the other parent when around the child. Or the couple may be too acrimonious to cooperate.

If the court is required to decide custody issues, the primary factor is “the best interest of the child.” To that end, Title 23 of Pennsylvania’s Consolidated Statutes Section 5328 lists 16 factors. Not all of these factors carry equal weight, but all of the factors will be considered.

When it comes to a parent with a criminal record, not one factor actually singles out a criminal past. The closest factors of the 16 are number two, any abuse or history of abuse; number 14, any history of drug or alcohol abuse; number 15, the mental and physical health of each parent; and number 16, any other relevant factor.

If you do have a criminal record, a lot will depend on the type of crime for which you were convicted or pled guilty. A violent crime is going to be considered more seriously than a petit theft. In addition, the court will consider how long ago the crime occurred and whether there have been repeating incidents. Your efforts at reform and rehabilitation will also factor in.

Your spouse’s attorney, however, will no doubt attempt to use your criminal record against you to argue for full custody rights for their client. You need to anticipate that eventuality.

Working with an Experienced Attorney

Having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify you from obtaining custody, but it complicates the issue. You need to prepare in advance for the time when the issue comes up in court. Therefore, you need the experience, knowledge, and resources of a family law/custody rights attorney.

If you’re facing divorce in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and you are concerned about how your criminal record will affect custody of your child, contact me immediately at Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. for legal guidance.

I also proudly serve clients in O’Hara Township, Indiana Township, Oakmont Borough, Fox Chapel, Penn Hills, and Aspinwall, Pennsylvania.