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Sharing Joint Custody with an Attacker


When a woman finds out she is pregnant it should be a joyous occasion, and witnessed by the excited father-to-be. Unfortunately, a woman’s ability to choose pregnancy when she is ready for the responsibility of a child is not always a given, but most willingly take up the duties of parenthood nonetheless. If the woman is not married to the child’s father, custody arrangements will have to be agreed upon, or created according to the decision of a court. Child custody terms are now set down in parenting plans that outline how much time the child will spend with each parent, and how decision-making responsibilities will be divided or shared. Courts are loathe to deviate from the standard presumption in favor of shared parental responsibilities, which is in place to support the public policy of encouraging frequent and continuing contact between parents and their children. But, does this standard make sense in cases of rape? Should a child conceived in this manner be forced to spend time with a violent criminal, and the victim to reconnect with his/her attacker? A Michigan court seems to think the answer is yes after it ordered a young mother living in Florida to return to Michigan in order to share joint custody of the child that resulted from an assault when the woman was 12. While this outcome does not sound like justice, it does present the opportunity to explore a parent’s custody options when the other parent presents a danger to the child and/or the other party. An exploration of this issue will follow below.

Options for Limiting a Parent’s Role

Florida courts start from the premise that both parents are fit to exercise their parental rights and should have equal parenting time with the child. However, this presumption can be rebutted by presenting evidence one parent poses a detriment to the child, which would act against the best interests of the child. A detriment is assumed if a parent is convicted of domestic violence offenses or other designated felony violent crimes, including sexual battery and offenses that require registration as a sexual predator. In the absence of a conviction, a parent is still permitted to present evidence showing dangerous behavior by the other party that puts the child’s welfare at risk. While courts rarely grant requests for sole custody, an arrangement that completely eliminates parenting and decision-making authority for one parent, outside of extreme circumstances, a judge may be willing to consider limiting the number of overnights, imposing supervised visitation, or giving one parent all decision-making authority. Basically, the court’s decision comes down what the judge considers to be in the best interests of the child, and a history of violence is one factor a court is required to assess when it decides if and how custody should be divided. Note that if sole custody is awarded to one parent, that does not relieve the other parent of child support obligations.

Terminating Parental Rights

Sexual assault victims have one additional option under Florida law that allows them to petition for the termination of the other parent’s rights. Florida law specifically authorizes courts to terminate the rights of parents who conceived a child as the result of a sexual battery. Terminating parental rights, a step which completely and permanently removes all custody and support rights and obligations, is presumed to be in the child’s best interests under these circumstances. Further, a court is required to accept a criminal conviction or guilty plea for sexual battery as conclusive proof that the child was conceived in this manner. Terminating a parent’s rights following a sexual assault not only protects the child from the parent’s dangerous influence, it also protects the victim from exposure to his/her attacker.

Contact an Orlando Child Custody & Visitation Lawyer

Protecting your child is a number one priority, and if you have concerns about your child’s safety with the other parent, you need the help of an experienced Orlando child custody & visitation lawyer to convince a court that precautions are needed. The Donna Hung Law Group has years of experience representing parenting matters, and can help you get custody arrangement that best work for your family. Contact the Orlando law firm at (407) 999-0099 to learn how they can help you.