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When Rape Victims Are Burdened By Having To Share Child Custody

Many people do not realize that child custody laws often work against women who are the victims of rape in America. Specifically, in 15 states, there is still no law in place terminating a rapist’s parental rights, and in the 35 states where there is a law in place, most first require that a parent be convicted of rape before their parental rights can even be considered for termination. Those that do not require a conviction all require an extremely high standard of proof (“clear and convincing evidence”) and many carve out exemptions for circumstances such as statutory rape. It’s an issue that affects around 30,000 women who become pregnant through rape (and choose to keep their children) each year.

The origins of this can be traced back to the 14th amendment and the fundamental right to parent that our country and Supreme Court have always upheld. Generally, it is up to each state to define what it considers to be an unfit parent, and although some state statutes provide for taking prior convictions into account when determining what is in the best interest of the child, that focus tends to center around whether the conviction was related to child abuse, not the mother’s rape.

Serious Family Consequences

Many would argue that it is common sense that a child would likely be harmed—even if indirectly—by being co-parented by an individual who is accused or convicted of raping their mother. Aside from the obvious, this could end up having some serious psychological and emotional consequences for their primary caregiver, their mother, which undoubtedly would come full circle in affecting the parenting of that child. Some of these women are forced to go to mediation with their attackers, even meet with these men who previously raped them, as they still live in fear of being attacked again.

The Law in Florida

Unfortunately, Florida was one of the states that historically had zero legal protection for circumstances like these. However, one rape survivor sprang into action and worked on Florida approving a law that later became the basis for federal legislation known as the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act. This state law was passed in Florida in 2013; however, it uses the “clean and convincing evidence” high standard that the U.S. Supreme Court has historically required for terminating parental rights. Specifically, it permits, but does not mandate, courts to terminate all parental rights of the rapist father–without a conviction–when a child was conceived through rape, upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence.

Contact Us for Assistance with Child Custody

If you are the victim of rape, domestic violence, or any other abuse, and you need assistance ensuring that you obtain sole legal and physical custody of your child, we can help. Contact the law offices of Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. to schedule a consultation. We serve clients in Boca Raton, Broward County, Fort Lauderdale, and surrounding areas.

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