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Sex Work and Custody Cases

A person who is or plans to be a parent and has been or is considering engaging in sex work, either legal or illegal, needs to consider how that work will impact any future custody cases. Despite recent movement toward decriminalization of prostitution and increasing acceptance of internet-based sex work, such as the use of platforms like OnlyFans, sex work and any other sexual behavior can and likely will be considered by a judge when determining child custody. But don’t despair! Sex work is only one of many factors considered and, with a strong defense, you can still get custody of your child.

The legal standard for determining custody is always the “best interest of the child.” Judges can use any factors that they believe are relevant to that best interest to make their decision, including financial stability, emotional stability, the parental bond with the child, past domestic violence, and any other past behavior of the parents that may predict future behavior impacting the child. Other parents will often argue that sex work is one of these behaviors. For instance, parents have lost custody for creating internet content in their home because the judge held that the filming location risked inappropriate exposure of the child to the mother’s employment and harming the child.

Many people, including judges, will assume that sex work is always connected to financial and emotional instability, poverty, and addiction, which would negatively impact a child. If a parent is performing illegal sex work, then there is a direct connection with the safety of the child. The parent is making a choice that risks arrest and prison time, so they are choosing to act in a way that could and likely will keep them from being able to parent and protect their children. Continually performing an illegal act for income can also be seen as a showing of poor judgment. Children whose parent is known to engage in sex work may also face the difficulties of social stigma.

Even without a potential effect on the child that creates a legal justification for considering past or present sex work in a custody case, moral stigma can and usually will still come into play in a custody case, regardless of whether you no longer participate. Even if sex work isn’t mentioned in the court’s findings, a judge’s personal feelings can change their overall demeanor toward you or make them less likely to work with you or your attorney on issues like discovery or admission of evidence. There are as yet no legal protections from discrimination based on engaging in sex work.

A family law attorney can help you mount a defense against these difficulties. If you are able, find alternative employment; stopping sex work is often looked on more favorably than choosing to continue. If you do not have that option, be sure to keep the largest distance between your child and home and your work as possible. Don’t conduct anything related to the work in your home, no matter how innocent. Be sure that any online presence is carefully monitored and cannot be connected back to your real name, your home, or your family. Bank statements and a strong housing history can rebut concerns about instability. The willingness to take and ability to pass a drug test will also help counter stigma relating to addiction. A parenting assessment and positive statements by those around you who both know of your sex work and have seen you parent will also help your case.

Sex work can and likely will make any custody case more difficult, but with experienced help you can show the court that being a sex worker, or having been one in the past, has nothing to do with your abilities to be a good parent to your child.