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Can My Florida Criminal Case Affect my Family Law Case?

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

January 15, 2020

If you’ve been accused of a crime, you know all too well how an accusation can upend your life. And if you’re in a custody battle or otherwise working through matters in family court, you might be concerned that a criminal case can negatively impact your family law case.

The truth is that it’s very likely that a criminal case will impact an ongoing family law case. However, the extent of that impact depends on several other factors. Here’s what to know about criminal accusations and family law.

First: Remember That Not All Criminal Accusations Are Alike

In any family court, and particularly in a custody battle, your opponent is likely to use any criminal history or pending charges to paint you as an unfit parent. However, not all criminal charges are viewed as alike, especially when it comes to family court. If you have been charged with a violent felony, you’re very likely to lose custody rights if convicted. These are some of the crimes that are most likely to have a major impact on your Florida family law case:

  • Murder
  • Stalking or kidnapping
  • Sexual assault
  • Aggravated assault
  • Domestic violence
  • Any other crime that endangers children

Even if you’re arrested for a felony that wasn’t directed at a child, arrests like the ones above point to a violent nature. They also communicate to the judge that you may be likely to abuse your own child if you are granted custody.

However, while major criminal charges are likely to impact your family law case, they aren’t the only charges to do so. Family court judges look for anything that may impact your ability to parent effectively. Namely, patterns of behavior, even if they don’t result in a conviction, may have a negative impact on your case.

For example, if you have a history of multiple arrests for violent crimes and no arrest resulted in a conviction, you might think that your past has no bearing on a pending family court decision. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Several past arrests will indicate to the judge that your general pattern of behavior is not one that’s acceptable for a parent.

However, even a single arrest for a non-violent crime may sometimes suggest a pattern of poor behavior. In Florida, family court judges try to learn whatever they can about each parent in order to determine who should have primary custody. In addition to criminal behavior, judges also will look for evidence that either parent has issues with drugs or alcohol.

Thus, even if you have been arrested once for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the arrest may significantly impact your case. While it isn’t always true, driving while intoxicated suggests that you may drink at other inappropriate times (including while caring for children).

While arrests for major crimes or crimes related to caring for your child are more likely yo have a direct impact on a family law case, an arrest for an unrelated misdemeanor (like petty theft) may have no impact at all. However, because the dynamics of every court case will differ, you should never assume that a seemingly unrelated arrest will have no impact on your case. When in doubt, it’s always best to contact a qualified attorney.

Keeping the Best Interests of the Child in Mind

As you navigate your family law case, remember that the judge will always strive to rule in the best interests of the child. In Florida, a family court judge will assume that shared custody is best for the child unless they are presented with evidence to the contrary. This means that a judge in the family law courtroom will try to look into every aspect of your life and relationship with your child.

The good news here is that a pending criminal case, while it still has the potential to complicate a custody case, isn’t the only thing a judge will consider when awarding custody. They also will look at the following:

  • The child’s current living environment–If you are the current custodial parent and have the child living in a safe, secure environment, this is likely yo work in your favor in a family law case.
  • Whether the child has any preference as to which parent is awarded primary custody–Especially with school-aged children, a judge will often seek the child’s input as to where they would prefer to live.
  • Each parent’s ability to provide a safe and structured home–If you have a safe, stable home that can accommodate a child, this will work in your favor.
  • Each parent’s knowledge about the child–If you seem to know very little about your child or about the child’s day-to-day life, you may be unlikely to be awarded custody.
  • How parenting responsibilities are currently divided–If you currently are a regular and meaningful participant in your child’s care, you may be more likely to be awarded custody.

What Should I Do if I’m Charged With a Crime During My Family Law Case?

You likely already know that, if you are charged with a crime, you need a competent criminal defense lawyer. However, the intersection of family law and criminal law is a complex one. If you’re seeking a favorable outcome in your family law case, you also will need to hire an attorney who is experienced with Florida family law. Your attorney will be able to review your charges and your ongoing family law case, as well as advise you on the steps you need to take next.

Facing criminal charges while also being embroiled in a custody battle is often difficult and overwhelming, but an experienced attorney can help.

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t hesitate to give us a call today (305) 330-1360.