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Missouri parents of rape-conceived kids have more protection

The recent firestorm over U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" have generated discussion on a variety of topics, including custody and parental rights of rapists if the victim chooses to have the child conceived during the rape.

An attorney has written a book about having a child as the result of a rape in Missouri, Akin's state, in 2004. Her alleged rapist sued for child custody. While Prewitt thought a denial would be automatic, she learned that was a mistake. Instead, the court had to file its own petition to terminate the rapist's parental rights. She also learned that 27 other states still have no laws to protect victims of rape who conceive children. In those states, the rapist can seek custody and visitation with the child in court. Prewitt counts herself lucky that the court terminated her rapist's parental rights.

This year the Missouri legislature passed a law that took effect this week. The law places an automatic stay on paternity proceedings when a criminal case alleging rape by a father is pending and prohibits the court from using denial of visitation by the mother in these cases against the mother.

The movement to get this law passed was started by the mother of a teenager who conceived a child during a rape, when she learned that the alleged father could seek custody even while his criminal case was pending. With passage of this law, Missouri finds itself in the forefront of surrounding Midwestern states, which offer no legal protections for mothers of rape-conceived children.

If prosecutors are unwilling to do anything, it's important to get the help of a family law attorney, who will have experience in child custody cases.

Source: Mother Jones, "Imagine you were raped. Got pregnant. Then your rapist sought custody," Dana Liebelson and Sydney Brownstone, August 24, 2012

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Joseph J. Porzenski
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