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Do rapists have parental rights in Minnesota?

When a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, should the rapist have any parental rights?

Most people would probably be surprised to hear that this can even be an issue. But, in fact, fewer than half the states have laws that allow a court to terminate the parental rights of a rapist in the absence of a criminal conviction. Minnesota is one of the states that does not have such a law.

A recent news story highlighted the plight of a Nebraska woman who was sexually assaulted and gave birth to a child conceived by the attack. Although the father was convicted of sexually assaulting the mother, a family court judge allowed him to have unsupervised visits with the child.

The father was charged with first-degree sexual assault, but agreed to plead guilty to third-degree sexual assault as part of a plea bargain. Nebraska law would have allowed the mother to terminate his parental rights if he had been convicted of the original charge, but because he was convicted only of the lesser charge he was free to seek visitation rights.

Some states have laws that allow a father's parental rights to be terminated if there is clear and convincing evidence the child was conceived by rape. This "clear and convincing" standard is a lesser standard of proof than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard required to get a criminal conviction.

The fact that Minnesota does not have a law specifically addressing this situation does not mean there are no legal protections for a mother in this position. Minnesota courts are required to put the best interests of the child first in deciding issues of custody and parenting time. The statute specifically requires the judge to consider whether domestic abuse has occurred in the parents' relationship and, if so, the implications for the child's safety and well-being. "Domestic abuse" is defined under Minnesota law to include rape and sexual assault. Whether additional protections for the mother are needed when a child is conceived by rape is an issue the Minnesota Legislature may one day have to consider.

Source: CNN.com, "'I have to text my rapist': Victims forced to parent with attackers," Thom Patterson, Nov. 18, 2016

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