Social media erupted this week after stories broke of a judge awarding joint legal custody of a young child to the man convicted of raping the child's mom to produce the kid in the first place. At the time, the mother was only a 12-year-old girl.
The man's lawyer claimed he would not actually make any attempt to see the child, nor did he ever actually ask for the custody he was given by the court. But, regardless, the case still raised questions about what legal rights rapists might have to the children they create with their victims.
As of 2017, seven states still have no laws that would stop a rapist from asserting parental rights over their victim's child. Those states include Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, New Mexico and Wyoming. Earlier this year, lawmakers in Maryland failed for the ninth time to take any action to prevent that from happening in their state, as reported by the Washington Post.
Laws do, however, exist in Texas. For example, the Texas Family Code allows a court to terminate the rapist's parental rights if there is "clear and convincing evidence" the victim was impregnated by the attacker or terminating custody rights is "in the best interest of the child."
"It's a lower standard of proof than a criminal case like murder where you need to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt," Channel 6 Legal Analyst Liz Mitchell explained. "It's a lower standard because they want to air on the side of protecting the child."
However, Mitchell added it would still be possible for relatives of the rapist to argue for custodial rights over the child. If a judge agreed, for instance, the same parents who raised the rapist could end up with custody of the child born out of the rape, Mitchell explained.
For supporters of stricter laws, progress has been made in recent years. Today, 30 states allow the full termination of a rapist's parental rights based on their own set of requirements.
The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a list of state laws related to the issue. To see what laws exist in your state, click here.