For most parents, the thing they fear above all else is harm coming to their children. Second to that is losing their custody or even parental rights over their children.
It’s no wonder, then, that so many parents’ thoughts turn toward the latter when they are arrested or convicted of a crime. A conviction for a misdemeanor can mean incarceration for up to a year in jail. A felony conviction can result in years of prison. Parents of minor children no doubt recognize the impact that being “put away” for any amount of time can have on their bonds with their children, so it’s also no surprise that they also fear the state formally splitting those bonds by terminating custody or parental rights.
It’s not widely known what happens after a parent is arrested or convicted of a crime. The goal of this post is to discuss child dependency and what can happen when a parent enters the criminal justice system.
I Was Arrested, What Will Happen to My Children?
Although most of us don’t think we’ll get arrested, the fact is that it can happen to anyone at any time, especially after making a big mistake. Because arrests can happen at any time, that means you can get hauled into the back of a police car on your way to work, at work, at home, or while out with your family. The point is: You can be arrested while you’re with your children or not – so, what happens now?
Here are a few possible scenarios:
- The police might release your children to your spouse or an adult relative who is with you at the time of your arrest.
- The police might allow you to contact your spouse or an adult relative to come pick up children if you are with them at the time of the arrest.
- The police might allow you to contact your children’s caregiver to inform them of what happened if you are arrested away from your children.
You might be wondering, “What happens if I’m arrested and no one can care for my child?” This is an understandable concern for single parents or parents with partners or spouses who are themselves incarcerated.
In these situations, Child Protective Services (CPS) gets involved, so it’s important to reach out to contact any other relatives who can care for your child. CPS will assess your relative, conduct a background check, and verify that person’s relationship to your child.
If everything checks out, your child will be placed with that relative; if not, CPS will file a petition to designate your child as a dependent of the court. This can place your child in a foster home until your legal situation is sorted out. Remember: A foster home can include a relative’s home, but only if they get involved with CPS!
Consequences for Child Custody
If you are arrested or convicted of a crime resulting in your incarceration, it will impact where your children live if you aren’t living with their other legal parent.
For example, non-custodial parents can request custody from the court when the custodial parent is serving time in jail. Likewise, a spouse can request custody when their soon-to-be ex is arrested and convicted in the middle of their divorce.
If two parents were never married, paternity must be established before the non-custodial parent can fight for custody from the custodial parent facing jail time.
Should any custody actions occur while the custodial parent is incarcerated, they will still receive these legal documents and have an opportunity to respond.
Consequences for Parental Rights
Aside from a shift in child custody arrangements, parents will also have to deal with matters concerning their parental rights. Keep in mind that the state isn’t automatically inclined to strip incarcerated parents of their rights. In fact, the opposite occurs through reunification services.
What Are Reunification Services?
Reunification services help incarcerated parents reunite with their children. Although offered in many situations, these special services are not available in all cases.
Reasons why reunification services are denied can include the following:
- The parent has a serious mental disability that prevents them from caring for their child.
- The child has previously been removed from their parent’s care because of sexual abuse.
- The parent previously killed a child through abuse or neglect.
- The parent, or someone the parent knew, severely abused their child younger than 5 years old.
- The court denies reunification after the parent severely abused their child
- The parent told the court that they do not seek reunification with their child.
- The parent was convicted of a violent felony.
These are just some of the most common reasons why reunification services can be denied. A judge may deny these services under other circumstances, such as when the court finds that a parent’s relationship with their child may expose the child to harm.
If you are denied reunification services or don’t successfully complete these services, your parental rights may be terminated.
Contact Us for Help!
Claery & Hammond, LLP provides legal support to parents who are facing all sorts of legal issues. If you are concerned about your custody and/or parental rights after you were arrested or convicted of a crime, reach out to our lawyers to learn more about how we can help.
Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP online now for more information!