Since U.S. Representative Todd Akin of Missouri said the female body will work to prevent pregnancy in "legitimate rapes," the news has been abuzz with stories from women who were raped and made the tough choice to carry their children to term.
One of the facts brought out by these stories is shocking the nation: Someone who committed rape can assert parental rights in child custody proceedings in more than half of U.S. states, including Minnesota.
This issue raises the question: What child custody rights do both parents - and children - have in abuse situations, let alone situations involving rape?
While Minnesota statutes (laws) do not have specific language that takes away parental rights from one biological parent who raped the other biological parent, there is specific language dealing with violence.
This is because violence has a direct impact on a child's best interests. A court takes multiple "best interest" factors into consideration when determining who should have custody of a child, including, "The effect on the child of the actions of an abuser, if related to domestic abuse ... that has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual, whether or not the individual alleged to have committed domestic abuse is or ever was a family or household member of the parent."
The chance that a court would grant child custody to a known rapist in these cases is slim; however, it is not impossible for a rapist to seek child custody and force the victim to go through child custody proceedings, thus causing the victim more pain. Furthermore, courts may question a victim's declaration that the child was conceived of rape if the rapist was not convicted of the crime, especially if the rapist and victim were in a relationship at the time of the violence.
Rape is one of many violent situations that might come up during child custody and visitation proceedings. If you and your children are involved in a child custody battle that involves domestic violence or other forms of violence, seek help now through an Order for Protection and speak with an experienced family law attorney. A lawyer can help you distance yourself from the abuser while fighting for your future - and your child's.