If you’re in a relationship or already engaged to someone with a felony, you’re probably wondering how their past could potentially affect you. You presumably love this person, of course, but you need to look out for yourself, too—and that’s a completely valid concern. While the exact consequences will vary based on your situation, some common issues could arise throughout your marriage to a felon.
Restrictions on Public Assistance
In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act as part of his efforts to “end welfare as we know it.” Among other reformations, the PRWORA places restrictions on who can receive benefits like food stamps or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). These include provisions making certain felons—including those convicted of “the possession, use, or distribution of a controlled substance” or “fugitive felons and probation and parole violators”—as well as members of their family, ineligible for certain aid.
This means that, even if you’ve got a squeaky-clean background yourself, you and your family could be restricted from receiving government assistance. While many states have lifted the ban, others have either retained its limitations or a modified version of them. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever need to take advantage of these programs, it’s worth considering the impact if your circumstances were to change.
Landlords have the right to not rent to someone based on a felony and many will avoid the potential risks involved with renting to a felon. If that’s your spouse, it can make the process of looking for a place to live more difficult for you both. Of course, this doesn’t mean every landlord will turn you away based on a criminal record but the possibility is there.
While many jobs won’t go further than a background check on an applicant themself, your family—in this case, your spouse—can be brought into consideration, too. This is particularly relevant to roles in law enforcement (especially when a position would require you to bring a gun into the home) or medical field (in the case of a drug-related conviction in particular).
This doesn’t mean that these fields are completely off-limits to you as the spouse of a felon but there is the potential for complications. If you dream of joining one of these professions, it’s worth considering what could come up in a background check done on your future spouse, or even checking free arrest records yourself to be sure.
As a rule, any debt your spouse has accumulated before marriage isn’t legally your responsibility, including any fines or legal fees associated with their conviction. However, if you plan to share a joint bank account or otherwise combine your finances, you’ll need to consider whether you’re comfortable with your earnings going toward that debt. Even more so, think about the implications of debt taken on after the marriage, whether through further complications of your partner’s felony or not.
In most cases, you’ll still be responsible for only those debts with your name attached. But, in the case of death, divorce, or annulment, a person living in a community property state can be held responsible for debts incurred by their late/former spouse. It’s worth noting too that, if your spouse has a hard time finding work because of their conviction, there’s the possibility of taking on further debt if your income isn’t enough to support you both.
Barriers to Growing Your Family
If you’re interested in fostering or adopting a child (or children), certain felony convictions will be grounds for disqualification, including crimes against children, crimes involving violence, and drug-related offenses. Even if your spouse has reformed themself entirely, a felony conviction can raise red flags about their ability to provide a safe, healthy environment for a child. All prospective foster or adoptive parents undergo these background checks, so it’s a critical consideration if you’ve wanted to follow that path and are considering marrying a felon.
Between effects like these and social impacts of marrying someone with a felony, there are a lot of considerations to be made before saying “I do.” With these in mind, do what’s best for you, your future, and your relationship for the best possible results.