When accusations of rape are at issue in child custody proceedings, P.1

Child custody disputes are, as readers know, among the most contentious disputes dealt with in family courts. It makes sense that it would be so: children are very dear to their parents, and so they can easily be seen as possessions and be used as a way to get back at a partner.

Custody disputes between unmarried persons present their own unique challenges, including the establishment of paternity. The challenges are particularly difficult in cases where a rape survivor is facing her attacker in court, or when a man is falsely accused of fathering a child by rape. Should states provide special protection to women who claim to have become pregnant by rape, and what requirements should be met in order for termination of parental rights to be granted?

The reality is that, at present, there are 15 states which have no laws in place to provide for the termination of an alleged rapist’s parental rights. Alabama is among these states. This means that 35 states do have laws to terminate the parental rights of an alleged rapist, though 24 of them require a rape conviction in order for terminate parental rights to be a possibility. The other states only require “clear and convincing evidence” that the child was conceived by rape, which is a very high civil standard of proof. Some states make certain exceptions for the termination of parental rights, such as cases involving statutory rape.

What complicates these cases even more is that the most important issue in child custody cases is actually not the desires and rights of the parents, but the best interest of the child. In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue and why parents accused of rape need work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect their rights.