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Family courts struggle to discern parental rights of rapists

Family court judges in Georgia consider many details when settling disputes between parents about child support, custody and visitation. When the father is a rapist or alleged rapist, however, the issues become even more challenging, and laws often lack guidance about parental rights for children conceived by rape.

For example, when a court required a convicted rapist to pay child support after the 14-year-old girl he assaulted gave birth, he asserted his parental rights and asked for visitation. He offered to drop his demand if the order to pay child support was lifted. In another case, a rapist awaiting trial refused to sign off on the woman's desire to place her baby for adoption unless she declined to testify against him in court. The law had required that she get the father's signature for the adoption without any regard to her accusation that he had raped her.

Because of some statutes that grants fathers their parental rights, rape victims often suffer from legal demands for contact with the children produced by their attacks. A rapist father might even have to be consulted about religious practices and schools. Among rape victims who become pregnant as a result of attacks, an estimated one-third of them give birth and thereby expose themselves and their children to possible parental claims by their attackers.

Although rape victims face heightened distress during a custody and visitation battle, all parents contend with difficult issues and emotions during these disputes. By having an attorney, a parent might gain advice from someone with emotional distance from the issue. An attorney could help a client focus on negotiating for essential needs.

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