What will happen to my children if I go to prison?

Child support, visitation and custody can be affected if you’re in prison. The other parent can become the custodial parent, even if only temporarily while the other person remains in jail or prison.  

I have children under 18 years old 

Custody of a child under 18 years old will often depend on whether there are any arrangements in place already.  

The court may play a role in working out the best interests for the child. The court also may stop your right to custody of your child because of your conviction and prison sentence. If this happens, the child will be placed with another person in the family or the other parent if they are alive and morally fit to look after the child.  

Can I keep custody of my children? 

If you go to prison, you cannot have sole custody of a child. However, parents can still share responsibility if the court doesn’t stop your rights to custody of the children.  

While you are in prison, the other parent can petition the courts to terminate your rights because of your prison sentence.  

You may need to hand over power and rights to the other parent if it’s in the best interest of your children. 

Charges that can affect custody 

Charges involving more serious elements such as murder, assault and sexual assault could strip the person of their parental rights.  

Other charges can strip visitation rights and affect the outcome of future issues such as returning the child to the original home.  

The judge may decide the other parent is a better fit because of the conviction and specific crime. 

Can my children visit me in prison? 

Yes, children can visit you in prison. The parent or legal guardian will have to include the children in the application to visit you in prison. They will need to bring identification at every visit.  

Any child under the age of 18 will need to be accompanied by an adult. Prison Governors may allow a young adult aged 16–18 years old to visit unaccompanied, so long as they have parental consent.  

I’m pregnant or have a young baby? 

If you give birth in prison, you can keep your baby for the first 18 months in a mother and baby unit. If your child is under 18 months old, you can can apply to bring your child to prison with you. 

Social Services arrange for children over 18 months to be cared for, e.g. by your parents, or by fostering. 

How do I apply for a place in a mother and baby unit? 

  • You can apply for a space in a mother and baby unit when you enter prison 
  • An admissions board will decide if it’s the best thing for the child 
  • If there are no places in the prison the mother first goes to, you may be offered a place in another unit 
  • If there are no spaces in any unit, arrangements must be made for the child to be cared for outside prison 
  • If you are refused a place, you can appeal – the prison will explain how 
  • Separation plans are made when you enter prison if the child will reach 18 months before your sentence is over 

If your sentence is over 18 months long, arrangements are normally made for your child to be cared for outside prison.  

Useful Links

https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/incarceration-how-does-it-affect-child-custody-52871

https://www.gov.uk/life-in-prison/pregnancy-and-childcare-in-prison

https://www.nicco.org.uk/userfiles/downloads/242%20-%20Being%20a%20parent%20in%20prison.pdf 

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