Could Kathryn Dennis Get Full Custody of Her Children in Wake of Ex Thomas Ravenel’s Arrest?
PEOPLE turned to a legal expert to see whether Thomas Ravenel's arrest on charges of assault might have any impact on his ongoing custody agreement with ex Kathryn Dennis
In the wake of Thomas Ravenel‘s arrest on charges of assault and battery, Southern Charm fans were left wondering whether his current legal troubles might have any impact on his custody battle with ex Kathryn Dennis.
Dennis had previously lost custody of her kids and entered rehab in 2016 after she tested positive for a drug, and spent the next two years proving her sobriety through random drug tests in order to gain that custody back. The effort paid off. “Everything in life to me,” Dennis wrote on Instagram Tuesday, captioning a photo of her kids.
But now that Ravenel has been charged, could Dennis be awarded full custody moving forward?
To answer that question, PEOPLE turned to R.J. Friedman — a lawyer who specializes in divorces.
PEOPLE: How bad is Ravenel’s arrest for the ongoing negotiations of his custody agreement?
Friedman: Well, it’s certainly an event that opens the door to a modification of the terms of your prior agreement. In civil courts, the threshold of proof is a lot lower than it is in criminal court. Criminal court, you have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Whereas in civil court, where custody matters are taking place, it just has to be proven that something is more likely to have occurred or not to have occurred in order for there to be some sort of binding effect against you.
So should she go back and get more custody?
It depends. It certainly would give her a vehicle to do so if she felt it was relevant to the best interests of the children. Certainly if he’s convicted, and ends up with some sort of sentence that prevents him from caring for the children, then that would be significant. But you’d have to really know the specific details of the case to know how it would affect custody.
RELATED VIDEO: Southern Charm’s Thomas Ravenel Accused of Sexual Assault, Allegedly Paid Accuser $200,000
Does she have a strong argument to say, “He’s been arrested and charged with abuse — I don’t want him around my two children”?
Well, it’s a change in circumstances — that is, something has occurred since the prior agreement that may mean there needs to be a change to those terms. But I’m not sure they would change her custody solely on these allegations, because it happened so long ago that I think any civil judge is going to say, “How has this affected anything that’s happened over the last couple of years?”
Let’s say she’s given more custody. Is that temporary? Does that change after Ravenel’s verdict comes?
It’s temporary until there’s a resolution in the custody case. A criminal case could take several years to resolve itself and generally, custody cases try to resolve in a shorter term.
What happens if he’s convicted?
If it’s a criminal conviction of that magnitude, it will very likely have an effect on the civil custody case. One, because of potential incarceration. But two, because the criminal conviction is then proof in the civil case. The court can take judicial notice that there’s a criminal finding beyond a reasonable doubt that something’s happened. And then there’s no further proof that needs to be given in a civil case. At that point, the conviction speaks for itself. It’s not a matter of if it happens, it’s how it changes things because he was found guilty of something.
What happens if he’s found not guilty? Are they back at the drawing board?
Just because he’s found not guilty in a criminal case doesn’t mean there can’t be civil consequences, because of that lower threshold — that lower burden of proof. The case can be tried in a civil court and he could be found to be somewhat liable or responsible or culpable in those acts because it’s a lower threshold. It’s like O.J. — he’s found not guilty of murder, but in a civil court was found liable for the murders.
Is there a risk factor for Dennis? Would she face consequences in the long run for trying?
If he was to come out of it scot-free, depending on the character of the individual, there could be consequences for sure. It just reopens the door to everything. Is she comfortable with the status quo or is she looking to seize the opportunity here? Obviously, law enforcement thought the allegations were serious enough to file charges against him. These are felony level charges. At some point, a grand jury is going to have to indict him on those charges as well. Certainly there would be sufficient evidence to move forward with charges. No court would hold that against her. She could say, “Hey, the police are the ones that are accusing this guy of this. I’m just concerned for my kids.”
How quickly should we expect her to act here?
It’s a long road between arrest and trial. If I’m her civil attorney, I might be biding my time to see what develops before jumping the gun based on an allegation that happened three years ago. It could be the tip of the iceberg. These are the allegations now, but there could be different ones.
Now that he’s out of jail, what will their day-to-day look like?
Likely, the same as before. Everything is status quo until a judge says otherwise. Somebody gets arrested and you’re like, “Ooh.” But everybody is innocent until proven guilty. It all depends on the facts and circumstances of a case and what the people want to do about it.
Also on Tuesday, Bravo exclusively confirmed to PEOPLE that Ravenel will not be returning to the reality series as a cast member.
The network’s decision comes after Ravenel suggested he was quitting in August, tweeting “I’m not doing the show anymore. In the contract they have the right to fictionalize your story. They took advantage of me. I decided I’ve got too much to lose and informed them I’m not coming back.”
Police first began investigating the disgraced politician in May after a woman reported him for sexual assault. A former nanny to his children named Dawn claimed to PEOPLE that she is that woman and alleged that, while his daughter was sleeping nearby, he “corralled” her into the master bedroom, dropped his pants, blocked the door and “proceeded to rip my clothes off.” Without going into further detail, Dawn said she eventually got away.
A source told PEOPLE that Ravenel’s arrest is connected to her allegations.
Ravenel denied Dawn’s allegations through his lawyer, as well as a separate sexual assault accusation from a woman he met on Tinder in 2015.
“My client enjoys a certain degree of fame, which has unfortunately made him a vulnerable target for such claims,” Ravenel’s attorney, Richard P. Terbrusch, told PEOPLE in a statement after the allegations. “The person this woman describes is simply not the man that I know. My client is a loving father, successful businessman, and upright member of the community. He is appalled and hurt by these allegations — and is committed to defending his reputation in the appropriate legal forum.”