Undoubtedly, the consequence that weighed most heavily on you after a court convicted you of a felony offense was the amount of time you would miss with your child while you served your time in prison. No matter how old or young your child, the length of a prison sentence means losing precious time for bonding and sharing.
Now that you have served your time, you will want to rebuild that relationship, and you are hoping this includes obtaining your share of custody. You may have many questions about the process and whether the felony in your past will affect your chances of regaining parenting rights.
Odds stacked against you
If you are still married to the other parent of your child, you may be able to pick up where you left off, provided your conviction was not the result of a crime against a child. However, you may have more of a challenge if you and the other parent are unmarried or divorced. While the courts prefer to allow custody in as equal measures as possible to both parents, your criminal past may prevent that. New Jersey courts typically take each case individually and carefully weigh all relevant factors, such as:
- Was the felony an act of violence, such as murder?
- Was the conviction related to direct injury to the child or the child's other parent, including molestation?
- Were you convicted of a sex offense?
- Are there alternatives for quality custody?
- What are the recommendations of the guardian, if the court appointed one for the child?
- How long ago did the felony occur?
- Have the courts convicted you of additional offenses since the felony?
These and other factors will be important to the court. If your conviction did not involve a violent crime, for example, if you spent time in jail for embezzlement or other white-collar crimes, family court may be more lenient. In fact, you may find the court is willing to grant visitation, if not shared custody, if you have paid your debt to society for a non-violent crime. However, crimes of a violent or sexual nature may place you at a serious disadvantage during a custody battle.
When you are ready to begin the process of seeking custody of your child, you may benefit from legal assistance, especially if you fear your ex will challenge your request. Your record will likely create many roadblocks for you in the future, so having a strong advocate could be to your advantage.