Family Law vs. Criminal Law: Overlapping Issues & How They Can Impact Your Case

An erroneous belief often circulates that family jurisprudence and penal jurisprudence exist as entirely discrete domains of legal doctrine, never to intertwine. This supposition, however, veers significantly from reality.

Penal Litigation

Indeed, family jurisprudence and penal jurisprudence frequently intersect. Consider a scenario where a penal charge might influence a custody or dissolution litigation, or conversely, where a family law concern could lead to a penal accusation. Predominantly, it is the former scenario that prevails. Charges such as domestic aggression, driving under the influence (DUI), or child maltreatment can substantially impact a family law litigation.

Before dissecting the involvement of penal charges within the realm of family jurisprudence, it is imperative to comprehend the operational distinctions between family and penal courts.

Distinctions between Family and Penal Courts

Family jurisprudence and penal jurisprudence operate as discrete legal mechanisms, each governed independently.

In family law proceedings, the objective revolves around legislating and resolving matters pertinent to separation and divorce, encompassing asset partition, child guardianship, and spousal maintenance. At no juncture does a family court venture into adjudicating the culpability or innocence of criminal conduct. Conversely, penal law proceedings are geared towards ascertaining the veracity of an accused’s guilt in committing a crime, without delving into family law matters.

Given the autonomous nature of these legal frameworks, it becomes imperative to apprise the court of extant orders in each case to avert discord. For instance, prior to adjudicating issues such as child visitation and guardianship, a family court magistrate must be apprised of any restraining orders stemming from criminal transgressions.

Impact of Offenses on Family Law Disputes

This section delves into prevalent criminal offenses that could influence family law disputes.

Domestic Aggression

In contested divorce proceedings, domestic aggression stands as one among several factors that family courts consider. Even in jurisdictions where domestic violence is not explicitly enumerated as grounds for divorce, the concept of “cruelty” typically applies, as evidenced in Texas. Instances of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, all constituting forms of domestic aggression, unequivocally qualify as cruel conduct.

Domestic aggression permeates various facets of family law, including:

  • Guardianship and Visitation: A history of domestic aggression may prompt a court to deem the offending party unfit for child guardianship or mandate supervised visitation. In such instances, the court meticulously evaluates evidence to determine the child’s best interests.
  • Spousal Maintenance: While courts generally eschew factoring spouses’ misconduct into alimony determinations, domestic aggression may tangentially influence the final award. When gauging the necessity for and affordability of spousal sustenance, adjudicators consider spouses’ emotional and physical well-being, educational attainments, employability, and earning potential. If domestic aggression has impacted any of these facets, it can either augment or diminish alimony payments.
  • Asset Partition: Depending on the jurisdiction, principles of equitable distribution or community property govern asset division during divorce proceedings. Regardless of the standard applied, domestic aggression can impact asset partition. Judges factor in how abuse might impede the abused spouse’s employability or other avenues through which it affects each party’s contribution to the marriage.

However, unfounded allegations of domestic aggression, if disproven in court, may lead to adverse rulings against the accusing spouse. Particularly in custody cases, such outcomes may tilt in favor of the accused spouse. Thus, it is imperative to refrain from accusations unless substantiated by genuine instances of abuse or threat thereof.

Child Maltreatment

Across all jurisdictions, the determination of child custody rests with a judge, who meticulously weighs myriad factors to safeguard the child’s best interests. Any history of child maltreatment by one or both parents significantly influences the judicial decision-making process. This stems from the inherent ramifications of abuse on the child’s safety and the parents’ ability to coalesce in matters concerning the child.

Instances where a parent has a history of cruelty, persistent child maltreatment, attempted filicide, felony assault leading to the child’s injury, or homicide or attempted homicide of the other parent, may result in the forfeiture of parental rights.

Irrespective of jurisdiction, any report of child maltreatment or neglect invariably triggers the intervention of Child Protective Services. Depending on law enforcement findings and agency recommendations, criminal charges may ensue.

Sexual Offenses

Similar to domestic aggression, sexual offenses exert a profound influence on custody arrangements due to apprehensions regarding the child’s safety and the offender’s exposure to substantial imprisonment.

If the court issues a mandatory protection order favoring the victim, the offender may be precluded from any contact with the child. In cases where the child was not the victim and the offender demonstrates substantial rehabilitative progress, the protection order may undergo modification to permit custody and visitation arrangements.

Additional Offenses Potentially Impacting Litigation

Additional criminal infractions that could impinge upon litigation include:

  • DUI: A DUI conviction imperils the outcome of a family law case, particularly when custody is contentious. The opposing parent may exploit the charge as evidence of parental unfitness, endeavoring to secure full custody. Even absent such maneuvers, a DUI is liable to alter custody arrangements. For instance, a suspended license could impede parental visitation, notably concerning school transportation.
  • Wiretapping, Eavesdropping, Computer Intrusion, Evidence Tampering: These criminal infractions frequently surface in the context of family law disputes. Regarding wiretapping, legal provisions at both state and federal levels distinguish between traditional wiretapping and unauthorized access to electronic devices. Breaches of either category attract both criminal penalties and civil liabilities. Thus, comprehending the permissible scope of such actions becomes imperative.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Criminal Complaints and Their Ramifications on Family Law Disputes

When Should a Criminal Complaint Be Lodged in a Family Law Dispute?

An individual retains the prerogative to file a criminal complaint. The onus then falls on the district attorney to discern whether the complainant seeks to exploit the criminal justice system to further their civil objectives in divorce, custody, or support proceedings, thereby engendering spurious allegations against the counterparty. In such instances, criminal prosecution looms imminent.

The district attorney serves as an independent arbiter of justice, disinclined to assume the role of the court’s custodian of domestic affairs. For queries pertaining to criminal or family law matters, consulting legal counsel is advisable to ascertain one’s rights and secure representation for their case.

When Does Law Enforcement Intervene in a Family Law Dispute?

Considerable ambiguity surrounds the intervention of a district attorney’s office in instituting criminal charges emanating from family law-related disputes. Despite the inherent conflicts attendant upon domestic discord arising from pre-existing intimate relationships, parental ties, or financial entanglements, the paramount concern of a district attorney remains the preservation of the victim’s and their family’s safety and well-being.

Acts of physical assault, sexual assault, stalking, harassment, and all forms of domestic intimidation transcend the realm of private disputes. Such instances constitute serious criminal offenses warranting meticulous investigation and, where warranted, vigorous prosecution.

In matters involving children, prioritizing the child’s safety, health, and welfare emerges as the preeminent consideration in deliberating whether to press charges. For instance, parental contravention of a custody directive by absconding with the child out of state may trigger law enforcement involvement, as delineated in §2908 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. However, in instances where a custody order breach does not immediately imperil the child’s safety, the district attorney is apt to exercise prosecutorial discretion and refrain from prosecution.

Financial discord between spouses constitutes an arena of family law where the district attorney exhibits marked reluctance to intervene. Pending civil disputes encompassing divorce, custody, and child support markedly complicate the delineation of genuine criminal intent in financial matters between spouses, thereby straining judicial resources.

You may be interested: