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Avoiding Criminal Charges In Divorce

Avoiding Criminal Charges: How Domestic Law Issues Can Turn Criminal

Family and domestic law cases, including divorce and paternity are civil cases. There are no criminal charges, and the case is heard by the bench (judge), not a jury. In some Indiana counties, there are separate civil and criminal courts. In other counties, both types of cases are heard in the same court. For the most part, the realms of family law and criminal law do not generally and frequently overlap. However, there are instances when criminal law becomes intertwined in a family law matter.

Criminal law can become an issue in family law matters if there is domestic violence, abuse or neglect of children, or failure to pay child support (this is a more extreme remedy-generally, there are steps before criminal charges on a failure to pay child support claim). One other example of criminal issues becoming intermixed with family law is criminal interference with custody1.

Custody and parenting time are determined either by agreement of the parties or by Court Order. Once a custody arrangement is ordered by the Court, the parties follow the agreement to ensure structure and so that each party knows the schedule and who has the child when. If the parties agree to switch days or for more parenting time, this is generally acceptable and the parties can work together if there are bumps along the way in enforcing the schedule.

However, if a person intends to deprive another person of custody or parenting time rights, criminal charges may be brought. For example, if a parent picks up the child when it is not his/her parenting time or keeps the child after parenting time has concluded and conceals the child from the other parent, this can be a criminal issue. Additionally, if a person takes a child out of the state of Indiana or fails to return a child to Indiana when this is an intent to deprive the other person of child custody and is in violation of a child custody order, this also may be a criminal act.

In most cases, family law and criminal law are separate and distinct. But, in some cases, the two areas of law overlap, and criminal charges are brought against a party for his/her actions or failure to act. We hope that this blog post has been helpful in exploring the interplay between family and criminal law matters. This blog post is not intended to be legal advice. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.


  1. See Ind. Code 35-42-3-4
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