At the end of any divorce or custody case, a judge will make a determination regarding custody and parenting time. This decision will be based on what is in the child’s best interest. A just must consider the factors set forth in Minnesota Statute § 518.17 when making this determination. These factors focus on ensuring that the child’s physical and emotional needs are met. Part of how a judge will make this decision will be examining the past behavior of the parents, including past crimes. When examining a parent’s criminal history in terms of a child custody determination, some crimes are more relevant than others.
Domestic abuse is specifically enumerated as a factor in the best interest determination. The statute provides that the court shall consider the nature of the violence not only between the parents of the child but also whether violence existed in prior relationships of either of the parents. In addition, although the statute has a presumption that joint legal custody is in the child’s best interest, that presumption disappears and is, in fact, reversed if domestic abuse has occurred between the parents.
In addition to domestic violence, other types of crimes could be very relevant to whether a parent has the ability to protect a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Drug and alcohol-related offenses can be particularly relevant, especially where the offenses took place in the presence of the children. For example, a court is likely to weigh a DUI conviction that took place with a child in the car very heavily, whereas a DUI that happened several years before a child was born with no criminal or alcohol involvement since that time may be considered as having little relevance.
There are some types of criminal involvement that a court may not believe to be particularly relevant to what is in a child’s best interest. These types of offenses would be those that are in the distant past with no additional criminal activity happening since that time. Also, the less serious a crime or infraction, the less likely a judge is likely to take it into account or consider that the crime has any real bearing on a person’s parenting ability.