Will a DUI Conviction Affect My Child Custody Case in Florida?
How Is Custody Determined in Florida?
In Florida, the courts are concerned with two aspects of custody: parenting time and parental responsibility. Parenting time (sometimes referred to as physical custody) is associated with visitation – in other words, who the child lives with and how their time is split between their two parents. Parental responsibility (sometimes called legal custody) refers to the rights of both parents to make important decisions about and for the child, such as medical and educational decisions.
When parents decide to divorce, both are presumed to have equal rights to their children, and neither parent has an inherent advantage. That being said, the courts privilege one thing when making custody determinations: the child's best interest.
Does a Criminal Record Affect Custody?
Having a criminal record may affect your custody case; it all depends on the circumstances of your criminal case and conviction. In particular, you may lose custody if your criminal conviction is related to an issue of domestic violence, child abuse, or neglect (FL Stat § 61.125). If there are questions about the child's safety, the judge in your case may either withhold custody or order supervised visitation.
Child Custody & Moral Fitness
As mentioned above, the courts are primarily concerned with the child's best interests and what will ensure the child's health and safety. However, the courts also consider the parents' "moral fitness" when determining child custody. Moral fitness is generally understood to mean that if a parent has existing circumstances that could negatively affect the child's moral development, the courts may withhold or reduce custody.
Examples of moral fitness issues may include:
- Drug or alcohol addiction
- Verbal or emotional abuse
- Physical abuse or violence
- Illicit or illegal behavior
Moral fitness does not have a specific legal definition and consequently can be open to the judge's interpretation. This can make dealing with ethical issues difficult. You should always work with an attorney to help you prepare for dealing with these matters in court.
Will I Lose Custody If I Am Arrested for A DUI
Having a DUI on your record can complicate a custody case. While a past DUI doesn't automatically mean that you will lose custody, it likely will have an impact of some kind. For example, if your DUI is associated with a substance abuse struggle, the courts may see this as a reason to reduce your custody, citing moral fitness issues.
Additionally, if you've lost your driving privileges due to a DUI conviction, you may find that your custody case is affected. The loss of driving privileges can impact your ability to take your kids to school, drive them to their extracurricular activities, take them to doctor's appointments, and more.
Even if your DUI is in the past, you should be prepared for it to be brought up during your custody case. While a past DUI doesn't preclude you from having custody of your children, it can still negatively impact your case. This is why you must speak with an attorney about your particular situation before going to court.
When to Call an Attorney
If you have a DUI conviction on your record and are going through a child custody case, you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Similarly, if you have a custody judgment and are arrested on suspicion of a DUI, you need to work with an attorney to determine how it could affect your ongoing custody of your children. An experienced lawyer can help you with your DUI and custody case.
Similarly, if you have lost your license due to a DUI arrest, your attorney may be able to help you get your license back. In some cases, reinstating your driving privileges can be crucial to restoring your normal custody and visitation as it facilitates your ability to care for your children.
Your Child's Other Parent Was Arrested on Suspicion of a DUI
If your child's other parent was arrested on suspicion of a DUI and you believe your child's safety is at risk, reach out to an attorney. When there is an immediate risk to your child, you may qualify to seek an emergency custody hearing. Emergency custody hearings are only held in true emergencies, such as domestic violence or substance abuse situations. If you believe your child is in danger, reach out Tinny, Meyer & Piccarreto, P.A. for help seeking an emergency custody hearing.
In these difficult situations, you may be able to seek a modification of your original custody order. The courts take modifications very seriously, and just because you ask for one does not mean you will be awarded one. You will have to demonstrate that the modification is in your child's best interest.
Review our blog to learn more about modifying child custody or visitation orders.