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Bill 629 Could put legitimate fathers' rights in peril

Michigan lawmakers have unanimously passed Senate Bill 629, which allows courts to terminate a rapist's parental rights when a child is conceived in that rape and the mother chooses to carry the child to term.

The laws currently allow courts to terminate the father's parental rights to a child conceived in rape only if the father has been convicted in court. Victim's advocates rightfully point out that many rape cases don't get reported and even fewer get to trial. Of those that do, only about 7 percent result in convictions.

Part of what makes the new law easier on rape victims is that it removes the decision about whether or not to terminate the father's parental rights to family court. The family court judge, unlike the judge in a criminal court, only has to be persuaded by "clear and convincing evidence" that a rape occurred. A criminal court judge or jury, on the other hand, has to be convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the rape was committed.

It's true that the previous law left some women in the position of having to fight their rapists for custody or even allow their rapists visitation with their children. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 629 could put fathers who conceived children under willing circumstances under pressure to prove that they aren't rapists if the mother later regrets the encounter, doesn't want family members to know that she was sexually active or involved with someone of a different race or religion or simply doesn't want the complications that come from having another parent in the picture.

It's an unfortunate situation that doesn't have any easy answers. No one wants to see the victim of a rape forced to negotiate parenting time with her rapist. However, no one wants to see a father who conceived a child under willing circumstances stripped of his paternity either. Given the likelihood that the law is probably going to be signed into action, men who are sexually active need to consider the possibility that they could be left fighting for the right to see their own children if a relationship badly sours.

If you're a father in this sort of situation, early legal help is probably not just a good idea, but an essential. An attorney who is experienced in the area of father's rights can keep you informed of your legal options.

Source: Michigan Radio, "Senate passes bill allowing termination of rapist's parental rights," Michigan Radio Newsroom, Dec. 16, 2016

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