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Unlock Category: 3. Personal relationships

Telling a partner, family member or friend about your criminal record

Aim of this page

This page aims to address some of the issues people face in forming new relationships or friendships and maintaining existing ones. It also highlights some of the things to think about when disclosing your criminal record.

It is part of our information on personal relationships.

Why is this important?

Relationships are a really important part of life. Partners, family and friends give us someone to laugh with when things are good and someone to turn to in times of need. But, maintaining relationships and meeting new people can be hard, and having a criminal record can make it seem even more difficult. That’s one of the reasons why people with a criminal record can become extremely isolated which may lead to a decline in their mental health, at higher risk of drug or alcohol dependency or a return to their previous offending behaviour.

It’s important therefore not to become socially isolated and that you make the effort to stay connected with your existing friends and find ways of making new ones.

Starting a new relationship or friendship

There are many reasons why having a criminal record can make meeting new people seem daunting. Your experiences of the criminal justice system may have made you feel insecure, you might have lost your self-confidence or you may feel unworthy of a new relationship/friendship.

You’re likely to be concerned about telling new partners/friends about your criminal record and how they will react once you have told them. However, building new relationships will be vital in helping you to move on with your life.

It’s important to remember that irrespective of your criminal record, meeting a new partner or making friends gets harder as you get older. Depending on the nature of your offence and/or the sentence or disposal you received may mean that you’ll have restrictions on where you can go and who you can meet with. However, some things to consider:

  • Have a go at volunteering – Volunteering allows you to meet people who care about the same things as you do whilst gaining new skills and experience. If you’re looking for paid work, volunteering may improve your employability.
  • Go to night school – Night school classes don’t have to be boring and speaking to people whilst taking part in a pottery or Spanish class will be a lot easier than having a conversation during an aerobics lesson. Not only will you meet new people but you’ll learn new skills as well.
  • Join a gym
  • Reach out to neighbours and work colleagues

Telling your partner, family or friends about your criminal record

Telling a new partner, your family or friend about your criminal record could potentially be one of the most important discussions you’re likely to have. You may be wishing that you’d had the conversation sooner or concerned that telling them will put an end to the relationship. Despite these worries, not telling them means that you’ll always be looking over your shoulder waiting for the day when your past comes to light.

Giving some thought and preparation about how you tell them will hopefully make you feel more confident in dealing with the questions your partner/friend might have.

Consider what you’re partner/friend might want to know. This could include:

  • What happened? Be clear and concise. “I got involved in a fight with my partners ex-boyfriend. He’d been goading me for a while but on this occasion, I was the instigator. I was arrested, charged and served a short time in prison”.
  • Who else was involved in the incident? This could include others convicted with you or victims of your crime.
  • Where and when did it happen?
  • How did it happen? Think about what you did. What happened when you went to court? What sentence or disposal did you receive?
  • Why did it happen? Only include the facts and, without making excuses, think about the reasons why you committed the offence.

Keep going over the story making sure you get it clear in your own mind.

Think about the circumstances which led up to the offence (breaking up with a partner, issues with addiction, bad judgement). Go onto explain what you’ve done since then. This could be a practical change such as moving to a different area, attending a treatment programme etc or just your thoughts about the offence and what you’ve learnt from having a criminal record.

Don’t assume the worst. Consider what could go wrong and how you would respond if they did but also think about the positives that could come out of your disclosure.

Practice telling your story from beginning to end. Remember, it’s difficult to take things back once you’ve said them. If you can, practice with somebody that already knows about your conviction; not only can they give you feedback but it might help to calm your nerves.

  • Discussions of this type are usually best done in person. A self-disclosure letter to an employer might be fine but is unlikely to work so well with a partner/family/friend.
  • Make sure that you’re meeting somewhere private where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Give your partner/family/friend time to digest and consider what you’ve told them; you could try telling them on a Friday evening when they’ve got the weekend to think it over.

Talking about a conviction isn’t easy and you’ll probably have needed time to work out how you feel about the new relationship/friendship before talking about it. You might therefore need to apologise for not telling them earlier. For example “I have something to tell you, and I should have told you earlier but I was afraid that you wouldn’t want to have anything more to do with me once you knew”.

If you feel bad, show your feelings. If you feel remorse, make that clear. Don’t say something just because you think it makes you look better. Being genuine is more important than telling people what you think they want to hear.

Think about the consequences of telling them. Although you shouldn’t assume the worst, it’s good to be prepared for a bad reaction – shouting, crying, accusations or silence. Listen carefully to everything your partner/family/friend says and stay calm. If you’ve been listening, you can try to address some or all of the issues they’ve raised.

Your partner/friend is bound to have a lot of questions for you. Answer as many as you can even if you do find it painful to talk about.

Maintaining existing friendships after you’ve received a criminal record

Some friendships are easy; when you meet up it feels like you’ve never been apart, and these friendships won’t change just because you’ve been convicted of a criminal offence.

Some will however be a bit harder but, being open and honest with your friends is an important way of creating a strong support team that will be integral in helping you move on from your conviction.

Some points to consider when disclosing your conviction to your friends are:

How close you are to your friend will probably determine how much you feel comfortable telling them. This could simply be sharing the name of the offence you were convicted of, to providing details of the circumstances that led up to the conviction and the specifics of how it has impacted on your life.

Sharing such personal information can be uncomfortable so it might help to jot down your thoughts and the main points that you hope to get across. Friends may have their own thoughts on what’s important, so let them ask questions.

While you would hope that a good friend would be non-judgemental and supportive, you may find that the reality is slightly different. We’re often drawn to people who are similar to us and we want them to keep within the bounds of the image we have of them. The fact that you’ve acted out of character may challenge the image they have of you which can be frightening and cause uncertainty.

Some friendships won’t be salvageable but many will be. Acknowledge your faults and mistakes, be patient with your friend and keep your expectations realistic.

What concerns might partners, family or friends have about specific offences or your attitude towards them?

Hearing that their partner/family/friend has a criminal record might come as a shock but some offences will cause more concern than others as will your attitude towards them.

Violent offences

A violent offence can be anything from a caution for common assault after a playground fight to a significant prison sentence for GBH. A new partner is likely to be cautious about getting involved with a person convicted of a violent offence, especially if the offence was against a previous partner. If you’ve got an understanding of the circumstances or triggers that led to your conviction then talk about this and explain what, if any steps you’ve taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again, for example attending anger management courses.

Under Claire’s law a partner can ask the police to check whether you have a violent past. The police could decide to disclose information about your conviction if they felt that your partner was at risk of domestic violence from you.

Sexual offences

If you’ve been convicted of a sexual offence then it’s likely that you will have little option but to disclose (either because the police insist upon it or because of information that exists online). The thought of having the police, probation or social services involved in their lives will probably be a concern to your partner/friend especially if they have children of their own or work with them. Further information around disclosing convictions for sexual offences can be found here.

Under Sarah’s law a partner/family/friend or member of the public can apply to the police to request a disclosure (of child sexual offences) about a person who has any form of contact with a child or children.

Drug offences

Although partners and friends may be happy to overlook an offence involving possession, if it was your own addiction issues that led to your offending, then this may ring more alarm bells. An addiction to drugs or alcohol can place an enormous strain on any relationship and if appropriate, you should provide your partner/friend with some reassurance that you’ve addressed your issues with addiction.

White-collar crimes

Partners and friends may consider that anybody convicted of a white-collar crime poses little risk to their own personal safety. However, there is usually an element of dishonesty in these types of offences and demonstrating that you are an open, honest and trustworthy individual will be important.

Offences committed as a youth

Most people appreciate that adolescence can be a difficult time and for various reasons, some young people fall in with the wrong crowd or make impulsive or bad decisions. Offences committed when you’re young are often quite minor (even if there are lots of them) and friends/partners will probably find these a lot easier to forgive.

You’re in denial

If you’re telling your partner/family/friend about your criminal record, then you need to take ownership of it. People do make mistakes and learning from these is the best way of ensuring that you don’t repeat them. Not accepting responsibility for your conviction or denying it, is unlikely to be the best way to start a new relationship/friendship.

Minimising your offence or criminal record

Compared to other’s you’ve met during your criminal record journey, your offence or criminal record may seem relatively minor. However, to anybody who’s never had any dealings with the police, any conviction is likely to be a big deal. Avoid downplaying your conviction or joking about it when you disclose.

Personal experiences

The personal story below has been posted on theRecord, our online magazine:

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

More information

  1. For practical information – We have more information on relationships, children and dealing with social services
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine, under the tag disclosure
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.


Information: Relationships, children and dealing with social services

Aim of this page

This information is designed to set out what you may need to consider if you have been convicted of a sexual offence and are looking to start a new relationship. It also looks at how social services may become involved in any new or existing relationship.

Why is this important?

If you have been convicted of a sexual offence, then you will naturally be concerned about disclosing this to a new partner, especially if your partner has children.

Many people with sexual or violent offences will be managed by the police, probation, prison and other professionals in order to protect the public from harm. These arrangements are referred to as MAPPA. As a result of this, the police or probation may chose to share details of your conviction with some of the following organisations:

  • Local authorities
  • Social services
  • Housing providers
  • Children’s services
  • Employers
  • Health services

If the police/probation choose to make a disclosure, then this could potentially have an impact on a new or existing partner, for example if they are working with children or have children of their own.

Its important to recognise that the police/probation may insist that you disclose your conviction to a new partner (or threaten to do it for you). This may also result in social services and/or other organisations becoming involved. Having an awareness of this will hopefully prepare you for dealing with them if, and when, they occur.

Starting a new relationship

For many people, getting a job, somewhere to live and starting a new relationship can all be seen as positive ways of moving on with life following a conviction. However, for anybody who has been convicted of a sexual offence, meeting somebody new can provide additional difficulties.

If you are on licence, you may find that additional conditions are added to it if you are convicted of a sexual offence. For example:

  • To tell your supervising officer if you start a new relationship.
  • To tell your supervising officer if you start a new relationship where the person resides in a house with someone under the age of 18.

If you are subject to notification requirements, you will also need to:

  • Notify the police where you are living in a household with a child under the age of 18. You will also be required to notify when residing or staying in a relevant household for a period of at least 12 hours with a child who is under the age of 18.

If you have any of the above restrictions, or if the police/probation believe that your new partner could be in any way vulnerable, then they will insist that you disclose your conviction to your new partner.

A good probation/public protection officer will give you an opportunity to do this for yourself. However, the time period they give is likely be to weeks rather than months. There is every chance that either the police or your probation officer will require clarification from your new partner that you have disclosed and what you’ve disclosed. It’s therefore in your best interest to be as up front and honest as you can.

Disclosing your conviction to a new partner

Telling somebody about your past can be hard. You may be worried that your new partner will judge you, lose respect for you or put an end to the relationship. Many people who have been convicted of a sexual offence will have no option but to disclose this to a partner, for fear of them finding out some other way. How you disclose will depend on the type of person you are. However there are some things that you may want to consider beforehand.

Tell the story to yourself first. Think about the who, what, where, when, how and why it happened.

Think about the circumstances at the time of the offence. Explain any events that led up to the incident and, more importantly, explain what you’ve done since.

Think about why you are telling your partner now and what impact it might have on them. For example, the possible involvement of social services if they have children.

Don’t immediately leap to the worst case scenario. Imagine step by step what might happen and how you could respond to anything that comes up.

Practice telling your story from beginning to end but don’t be tempted to write a script. You can’t assume how your partner will react so you have to keep the lines of communication open. It might be an idea to practice with somebody who knows the situation.

Meet at a time and place where you can focus entirely on each other. It’s always a good idea to tell your partner when they have time to digest the information, for example a Friday evening when they have the weekend to think about what you’ve told them.

This will certainly be the case if you feel you may have misled your partner in some way by not telling them earlier.

If you feel remorse, show it.

Be prepared for a bad reaction. You partner may shout, cry or be silent. It will probably come as a shock to them. People don’t always mean what they say in situations like this.

Questions from your partner may bring back unpleasant memories but try to answer as best you can. If you find it difficult to talk about, explain this.

Disclosing that you have a criminal record won’t necessarily be the end of the relationship. However, have realistic expectations and give your partner time and space to come to terms with what you’ve told them.

Starting a new relationship if your partner has children

When it becomes known that a person subject to the sex offence notification requirements (on the sex offenders’ register) is sharing the household or, has significant contact with children, then there is every likelihood that children’s services will become involved.

If this is the case, then children’s services will usually wish to carry out a risk assessment under Section 47 of the Children’s Act 1989. The child’s parent/carer will be told of the concerns held and, if it is appropriate, a child protection conference and/or legal proceedings may result.

What would a risk assessment involve?

Risk assessments are undertaken to evaluate:

  • The frequency and extent of your past offending behaviour
  • The level of danger that professional agencies have attributed to you in the past
  • The likely risk to current, future and potential victims
  • Your motivation to change or control your offending behaviour
  • Details of any intervention programmes that you have undertaken.

In addition, an assessment will be made of:

  • Your partner’s willingness and capacity to protect their children
  • Any risk posed to other members of the household or the extended family
  • Any risk posed to members of the wider community.

It is possible that any findings will be shared with other agencies (for example health care professionals, schools etc).

The process can be extremely intrusive and difficult and we have heard of situations where children’s services have threatened to take children into care if a man/woman refuses to break off their relationship with somebody who is on the sex offenders’ register.

Returning to your own family following a conviction for a sexual offence

If you are already a parent at the time you receive a conviction for a sexual offence, then there is a chance that there will be some involvement with children’s services, even if the offence was nothing to do with your own child. A risk assessment may be needed before you will be allowed any unsupervised contact, overnight stays or a return to the family home.

Social workers will be keen to speak to all members of the family together and also separately to ensure that:

  • You want to reintegrate with your family
  • Your family are happy for you to return to the family home and are not being coerced into agreeing to it
  • Key issues surrounding your offending behaviour have been addressed

Having a family of your own

All the time you are on the sex offenders’ register, you stand a good chance of there being some involvement with children’s services if you choose to start a family of your own. Once you come off the register, you should be treated no differently to any other couple looking to start their own family.

Child protection procedures

If children’s services believe that a child may be at risk of harm, they will try to establish what kind of assessment (if any) needs to be carried out and whether they should start a child protection enquiry. The aim of a child protection enquiry is to gather information about a child’s circumstances and decide whether any action is needed to keep them safe and well cared for.

If an enquiry demonstrates that there is no risk of harm to a child, then no further action will be taken. If children’s services feel that the family may benefit from additional support, then they may put some monitoring measures in place. This could be for example, ensuring that a child is never left unsupervised with the person who has a conviction for a sexual offence.

If it is believed that a child is, or is likely to be, suffering significant harm, then an initial child protection case conference will be arranged.

Challenging decisions and making a complaint

Parents, people caring for children, family members who are involved with a child and sometimes children themselves can make a complaint about a decision made by children’s services.

Complaints can be made about:

  • Any of the decisions of or services provided by a social worker or children’s services and
  • Not getting the services or help you or your child needs.

How do you make a complaint?

You can make a complaint by:

  • Arranging a face to face meeting with your designated social worker and discussing your complaint with them. Always follow up what you’ve discussed in writing so that you have a record of it
  • Completing the local authorities online complaints form
  • Writing to or emailing the children’s services complaints department.

In any complaint you should:

  • Put all your issues in one letter rather than writing lots of separate letters as this may come across as you being an habitual complainer
  • Keep your complaint as clear and brief as possible
  • Make sure you explain clearly what you believe children’s services has done wrong, how it has affected your child and what you would ideally like them to do to put things right
  • Keep a copy of the complaint and other relevant information relating to it.

What other ways could my new partner be affected by my offence?

Disqualification by association

If you are convicted of a sexual offence against a child, then anybody who lives in the same household as you could be disqualified from working in some jobs with children up to the age of eight. We have more information about disqualification by association.

Personal experiences

The personal stories below has been posted on theRecord, our online magazine.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • Lucy Faithfull Foundation – A child protection charity working with people with convictions for sexual offences
  • Family Rights Group – A charity working with parents in England and Wales who have children in need, at risk or are in the care system

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on sexual offences
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine, under the tag sexual offences
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.

This page was last fully reviewed in December 2016. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating please let us know by emailing or completing a feedback form.

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