Arrests and jail sentences can throw a person's entire life into disarray. And when that person has primary custody of a child or children, incarceration can affect many more lives than their own. Child custody decisions aren't easy to make in the first place, and if the custodial parent is arrested, those decisions can get even more complicated.
So what happens to children when parents go to jail, and who gets custody?
As a general rule of thumb, all child custody decisions are made in the child's best interests. When determining who a child's primary caretaker will be, courts will consider a variety of factors, including:
- >Each parent's financial and physical ability to provide the child with essentials like food, medical care, shelter, and clothing;
- Each parent's vocation and habits, including things like excessive drinking or smoking;
- The child's wishes (if the child is of a certain age, normally 12 years old);
- The parents' wishes;
- The emotional bond between child and each parent;
- The child's age, sex and medical history, both physical and mental;
- The willingness of each parent to support the child's relationship with the other parent; and
- >The quality of life the child enjoys in the child's current status quo, and the level of adjustment needed from the child if forced to move to a new school, city, or state.
There are generally no automatic decisions when it comes to child custody, so determining custody after a custodial parent goes to jail will include many of the same considerations as before. The process may be a bit different, however. While child protective services or child social services will probably look to place the child with the other parent or family member, they will still make that determination in the child's best interests so no one will gain custody by default.
If you've been arrested and are concerned with the custody of your children, or the person with custody of your children has been arrested, you should contact an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible.