How a Criminal Record Affects Child Custody in Washington

For parents of young children, going through a divorce or separation can be especially stressful. You need to be able to protect your relationship with your case. If either parent has a criminal record, that could have an impact on your custody/visitation case. In this article, our Spokane child custody lawyers highlight the key things to know about criminal records and child custody proceedings in Washington. 

State Policy: Washington Uses the Best Interests of the Child Standard

First and foremost, it is crucial to emphasize that family courts are instructed to do what is best for kids. Under Washington law (RCW 26.09.002), “the best interests of the child shall be the standard by which the court determines and allocates the parties’ parental responsibilities.” Washington State courts can review any factor deemed relevant to determining what is in the best interests of the child, including a parent’s prior criminal record. 

A Criminal Record May be Relevant—But Specific Circumstances Always Matter

In Washington State, a parent will not automatically be disqualified from custody or visitation simply because he or she has a criminal record. While Washington courts can and will consider a parent’s criminal record, it may ultimately be deemed a minor issue or wholly irrelevant to the proceedings. The specific circumstances of the case always matter. Here is what you should know about how Washington courts assess view criminal history in child custody cases: 

  • The Specific Charge(s) Matters: For obvious reasons, not all criminal charges are viewed equally in child custody. A fully resolved conviction for petty theft may be deemed a minor issue. On the other hand, a conviction for domestic violence, child abuse, or child endangerment could potentially prevent a parent from getting unsupervised custody/visitation. 
  • The Date of the Conviction Matters: People make mistakes. Courts will consider the date of any criminal conduct. The more time that has gone by since the charge, the less importance it will have on the case. If criminal charges are still pending, that will have a significant impact on a court’s custody/visitation decision. 
  • The Parent’s Current Life Environment Matters: Finally, courts will also carefully consider a parent’s current situation and the stability of their home environment. Lack of stability can be a serious issue—especially if there is a history of criminal allegations. For example, imagine that a parent has a drug possession conviction on their record. If there is evidence that they are still using illegal drugs, they may be denied custody. In contrast, a parent with a 10-year-old drug conviction who has completed rehab and is holding down a full-time job may be deemed a fully suitable parent. 

Get Help From a Child Custody Attorney in Spokane, Washington

At Hodgson Law Office, our Spokane child custody lawyers are caring and compassionate advocates for parents. If you have any questions about how a criminal record can affect custody in Washington, we are available to help. Contact our family law team now for your completely confidential initial consultation. We provide child custody representation throughout Eastern Washington, including in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Deer Park, Medical Lake, Veradale, Cheney, and Airway Heights.