The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has published our article on how Pennsylvania law handles child custody issues in rape cases.
Pennsylvania has received national attention for offering rape victims protection against rapists who later seek child custody privileges. But even Pennsylvania’s protections are limited because judges have discretion over all child custody matters.
“We’re not going to be stupid and give custody to a rapist,” Allegheny County Common Please Judge Kathleen Mulligan told us.
But it can happen, says Chicago-based attorney and women’s rights advocate Shauna Prewitt.
“For instance,” our article states, “a rape victim may be forced to interact with her rapist for months or even years if a custody hearing precedes a rape conviction. By the time the father is eventually convicted of rape, Ms. Prewitt says, a court may find that it is in the child’s best interests for the father to have custody rights because he has established a parental presence with the child.”
To read the entire article, please click here.
It is widely believed that in child custody disputes courts favor giving primary custody of the child to the mother.
But the law rejects this notion.
Pennsylvania law states: “In any action regarding the custody of the child between the parents of the child, there shall be no presumption that custody should be awarded to a particular parent.”
Thus, under the law, both parents are presumed by the court to have equal custodial rights over their child or children.
In some limited situations, a person who is not the child’s parent – a grandparent, for instance – may also assert custodial rights over the child. But even in these cases, the parent’s custodial rights take precedence.
Pennsylvania law states: “In any action regarding the custody of the child between a parent of the child and a nonparent, there shall be a presumption that custody shall be awarded to the parent.”
To learn more about your child custody rights, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
Missouri Congressman Todd Akin lit a political firestorm with his statement that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy. “If it’s legitimate rape,” Akin said, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
What is “legitimate rape?”
And how can a woman’s body distinguish the sperm of a rapist from a consensual partner?
But some good may result from the controversy, as Akin’s comment has shifted the political focus to women’s rights.
Today 31 states allow men who father through rape to assert child custody and visitation rights.
I mean can you imagine getting raped, becoming pregnant, having the child, and then having your rapist seek custody rights over the baby and becoming legally bound to you for the next 18 years?
But that’s precisely what happened to Shauna Prewitt, a rape survivor, attorney, and activist who investigated the custody rights of men who father through rape.
Moreover, Prewitt’s rapist threatened to assert custody of their child unless she stopped pursuing criminal charges against him. Most states sanction this cruel form of blackmail.
Nineteen states, including Pennsylvania, passed laws allowing courts to terminate parental rights of men who father children through rape. Pennsylvania law states: “The rights of a parent in regard to a child may be terminated” if “the parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of a rape or incest.”
Hopefully, Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment will inspire more states to follow Pennsylvania’s lead and pass legislation restricting the ability of men who father children through rape to assert custody rights.