Although family law and criminal law are two very distinct areas of the law, they frequently overlap creating challenges for lawyers who specialize in just one area. When a family law case involves elements of criminal law such as domestic violence, child abuse, restraining orders, alcohol (DUI) or drug offenses, the case becomes exponentially more complicated for the family law practitioner.
Since I have been a District Attorney in Los Angeles County for ten years with extensive experience in family violence and DUI/Drug criminal cases along with prosecution of child support cases, I have now twenty-one years experience in both the family and criminal law arena.
Often the multitude of orders in the family courts and criminal courts need to be consistent since conflicting orders will detrimentally affect your client and parties involved (including the children). Cases may proceed simultaneously in different courts and through different attorneys exposing the challenges of which orders take precedence. Note as well the different burden of proof since family law is in the civil arena while criminal law poses the paramount burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.
I have written about the importance of how criminal charges such as child abuse, domestic violence, drug related arrests by a defendant involved a divorce case must be litigated to its full extent in order to prevent negative consequences to his/her divorce case. A conviction of a violation of a restraining order, drug possession and use, or child abuse/neglect for example, would be considered by the family court judges in determining custody, visitation and spousal support.
All states, including the District of Columbia (“DC”) have statutes that require the courts to consider domestic violence committed by one parent against the other in resolving custody or visitation disputes between parties. Additionally, in all states and DC, individuals who have experienced domestic violence have civil and criminal remedies to protect themselves from further orders.
In many states, when the police encounter a domestic violence situation, one of the two parties involved in the dispute is required or requested to leave the home. In about one-third of the states, police officers are also authorized or required to remove guns when they arrive at the scene of a domestic violence incident without further investigation or court intervention.
In some states, the police can give the victim an emergency protective order (EPO). An EPO is a short-term protection order typically given to a victim by the police or a judge. This permits the victim to file the necessary paperwork in family court for a permanent restraining/protective order.
Any drug or alcohol related arrests and conviction impacts the court’s ruling as to which parent should have legal and physical custody of the child. In determining what is the best interest of the child, the judge will review a parent’s history of drug and alcohol use/abuse and impose certain conditions for visitation or even impose no visitation.
As for any reports of child abuse and/or neglect, the Department of Children Services will also become involved and depending on the police findings and agency recommendation, a criminal case will be filed. The family law judge will then make a finding of whether a parent (defendant in the criminal case) has any visitation or custody rights.
I have represented many clients in both arena and have even taken the criminal cases to trial since I know the dire consequences to my client’s divorce/family law case if a conviction results. A false allegation of domestic violence, child abuse, drug use is not uncommon while a divorce is ongoing so it is critical that a client who faces both a criminal charge and an ongoing divorce is represented adequately in both arenas.