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Florida Congresswoman Proposes Legislation to Protect Rape Victims in Child Custody Cases

Rep._Debbie_Wasserman_Schultz.jpgFlorida is one of only a minority states with laws that allow rape victims to avoid potentially complicated and difficult child custody battles with their attackers in cases where the rape results in the birth of a child. However, that number could rise substantially if Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has her way. The Florida Democrat led a bipartisan group that proposed the Rape Survivors Child Custody Act, which would use the lure of federal grant dollars to incentivize states to pass laws allowing rape victims to obtain sole custody over the children born as a result of their rapes, CBS Miami reports.

The bill, sponsored by Wasserman Schultz and Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican, would make states eligible for federal grant funds flowing from two programs established under the Violence Against Women Act, but would limit that eligibility to those states with laws that permit rape victims to go to court to prevent potential custody battles with their rapists.

A thinkprogress.org report stated that estimates place the number of rape pregnancies at approximately 32,000 annually, with more than 10,000 of those victims electing to raise their children. At a press conference related to the bill, Shauna Prewitt, a rape victims’ rights advocate, explained that rapists can use a pregnancy or child as leverage against the victim’s reporting or pursing her attacker by threatening to pursue joint custody of the child if the woman participates in a criminal prosecution of the rape.

Under the laws of Florida and five other states, a victim may terminate the parental rights of her attacker simply by providing to the court “clear and convincing” proof that she was raped. The laws of 13 additional states require a criminal conviction.

Critics of the federal law contend that it goes too far. Chicago attorney David Gotzh, writing on elitedaily.com, points out that using the “clear and convincing” evidence standard creates the possibility of undesirable outcomes that undermine due process. Gotzh notes that, by using this standard, a man’s parental rights might be terminated without him ever knowing about it. “[S]ay the ‘accused’ was improperly notified about the proceedings and … no one on his side shows to court.” In these cases, the court likely would enter a default judgment in favor of the alleged victim without the purported father ever making his case to the court.

Also, the proposed federal law is broad enough to allow persons acquitted at trial to still lose their rights if a judge concludes that the alleged victim met the lower standard of “clear and convincing” proof. Furthermore, the federal law fails to define rape and leaves open the possibility of parents losing their rights, perhaps years after the fact, even in cases of consensual sex, if the sex at the time of conception was potentially subject to statutory rape laws, according to Gotzh.

The South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are here to provide zealous and skilled representation of people in the Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade area as they work toward obtaining successful resolution of their family law issues. Whether you are seeking to obtain full custody of a child, or seeking to prevent the loss of your parental rights, reach out to us right away to obtain the benefits of our knowledge and experience. Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Child Custody Concerns on a Startling Rise, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 31, 2013
Domestic Violence in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 20, 2013
Important Updates to Florida’s Alimony/Child Custody Legislation, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 8, 2013