No parent wants to be separated from their children. Unfortunately, if a divorced parent is charged with serious sex crimes, the allegations could negatively affect the defendant's child custody arrangement. Pennsylvania's laws allow parents to seek custody modifications in cases where the other parent has been charged with certain offenses.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health maintains annual statewide records of divorce and marriage. According to the most recent data available, there were just over 34,200 divorces in Pennsylvania in 2013, a slight decline from the previous three years. Spread evenly across the year, that averages out to roughly 94 divorces every day, or about four divorces per hour.
With so many couples getting divorced on a daily basis, it's inevitable that some divorcees will eventually face criminal charges. While any type of criminal charge has the potential to adversely affect a parent's custody plan, allegations of sex crimes like rape or possession of child pornography can be especially devastating to parents who are trying to gain or keep custody of their children.
Depending on the details of the case, judges may be lenient when considering minor, nonviolent property crimes, such as misdemeanor vandalism or shoplifting. However, felony crimes which are violent or sexual in nature are red flags with regard to the evaluation of parental "fitness." If a parent can be proven "unfit," his or her parental rights can be involuntarily terminated. Under Pennsylvania law, parental rights can be involuntarily terminated if:
Pennsylvania's legal statutes make provisions for criminal charges with regard to child custody. The pertinent statute can be found at 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5330 (Consideration of Criminal Charge), which provides the following:
"A party who has obtained information under 42 Pa.C.S. § 1904 (relating to availability of criminal charge information in child custody proceedings) or otherwise about a charge filed against the other party for an offense listed under section 5329(a) (relating to consideration of criminal conviction) may move for a temporary custody order or modification of an existing custody order."
So what does that mean for you as a parent?
Stated more simply, a parent can seek to modify a custody order (or get a temporary custody order) if he or she discovers that the other parent has been charged with certain crimes, including any of the following offenses:
Other offenses include:
As you can see, it's quite a lengthy list - and many of the offenses included are categorized as sex crimes.
The statute further provides that, once the other parent initiates proceedings to modify custody, "The court shall hold the hearing under this subsection in an expeditious manner" - or in other words, as soon as possible. If your ex-wife or ex-husband is seeking a custody modification, it is in your best interests to retain a family law attorney immediately.
Moreover, it is absolutely critical that you are represented by a criminal defense attorney when facing your charges, as the penalties imposed for these types of convictions can be severe. Many sex crimes are categorized as felonies, which, in Pennsylvania, are subject to fines ranging from $15,000 to $25,000, as well as lengthy prison terms ranging from seven to 20 years. Life imprisonment is possible in some instances.
Furthermore, in addition to being incarcerated and heavily fined, you may also be required to register as a sex offender depending on the offense. Needless to say, becoming a registered sex offender can create significant barriers to both personal and professional relationships. Despite a profusion of anti-discrimination laws, the reality is that many sex offenders struggle to find housing and employment for many years after they are convicted.
If you were arrested for sex crimes in Philadelphia or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, you need a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight the charges and protect your legal rights. To set up a free and completely confidential consultation, call the law offices of Krasner & Long at (215) 882-9752 today.