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Do felons have the right to retain custody of their kids?

If you get convicted of a felony here in California, what impact does that have on your rights to custody of your children? A felony conviction does not necessarily preclude a parent's retaining custody of their kids — but it definitely could have an adverse effect.

Part of the problem is the logistics. Most — but not all — convicted felons will spend some time in jail. However, with the overcrowded prison system here in California, they may wind up actually spending only a short time behind bars.

Who keeps the kids when mom or dad is locked up?

Arrangements must be made for the children of single parents who have to serve their time in prison. That can result in temporarily transferring custody to the child's other parent or to a family member or friend. Getting the children back after serving your time could be a bit more complex if the person with custody decides to fight the transfer back to you.

Your charge matters a great deal

It also matters on what charge you were convicted, as, in the eyes of the court, not all felonies are equal. If it was a drug charge, to retain or regain custody once you are out of jail, you may have to prove that you are sober and actively pursuing recovery.

Those who get convicted of sex crimes, domestic violence or child abuse will probably not be able to have custody of their kids even after they leave prison. In some cases, their parental rights might get terminated while they are behind bars.

Visitation might also be affected

Parents with felony convictions may no longer be able to enjoy unfettered visitation with their minor children after serving out their sentences. They may need to have supervised visitation and/or not be able to keep the kids overnight. Again, this is heavily dependent on the crime for which you were convicted and the efforts of those who have custody to fight your efforts.

The court has discretion

In all cases, the courts must put the children's best interests ahead of those of the parents. As such, a remorseful felon who has paid their debt to society and who has reformed their life could conceivably convince the judge to allow them to regain custody of their children.

You should learn all about your right to seek custody of your children once you resolve your legal difficulties. Regardless of the custodial situation, it does not negate your responsibilities to pay support for your kids.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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