No one is perfect, although we all try to be as perfect as possible for our children. In custody battles, the court will look to the past behavior of the parents to determine what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest. When you have skeletons in your closet, an examination of your history can be intimidating. The good news is that past indiscretions don’t automatically have any impact on your custody case. Whether your past will result in an unfavorable custody order for you depends in large part not only on what happened, but when it happened. The more remote in time your mistake, the less likely it is to have any bearing on the outcome of your case. For example, if the other parent is convicted of shoplifting six months before the final hearing, the judge will definitely give that more consideration than a shoplifting charge from three years ago.
New Jersey law gives special consideration to particular crimes, however, in custody cases. Specifically, domestic violence and child abuse can play a big role. In the best interest factors set out in New Jersey statute, a trial court must give due consideration to a parent’s history of domestic violence and also that the child needs to be free of physical abuse. Note that neither of these factors require a criminal conviction in order for the judge to consider past incidents of abuse of the other parent or of a child.
The best interest factors also state that the court shall give consideration to each parent’s “fitness.” Fitness is a nebulous term, but is often applied to cases involving current or past substance abuse. With substance abuse numbers rising, courts take allegations of substance abuse very seriously. Evidence that the other parent in your case is abusing alcohol or drugs can demonstrate that the other parent is unfit. Understand, though, that if a parent has been clean for a period of time, it is unlikely that the parent will lose parenting time because of past substance abuse problems. The longer the time the parent has remained clean and sober, the less likely it is that the addiction will result in loss of custody or parenting time.
Infidelity, although hurtful, is unlikely to have large ramifications in a custody suit, even if the infidelity is recent. However, if the new boyfriend or girlfriend of your spouse is unsuitable to be around children, this may be relevant. Unsuitable typically means there has to be something seriously wrong, such as being a convicted felon or a drug addict.
If you are concerned about your history and how it will impact your custody case, contact us today at (732) 529-6937. We have experience in providing guidance to our clients to get to their future goals while not being hindered by their past mistakes.