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Pennsylvania law regarding child custody for rapists still murky

In matters of child custody, Pennsylvania family law isn't as simple as you might imagine. Parents who are engaged in a child custody or visitation dispute will need legal counsel in order to come to a fair arrangement that keeps child's best interests as the top priority. Judges are given great discretion in determining with whom a child lives and spends time, so an attorney is often necessary to help the judge clearly understand the full scope of a given situation.

For instance, consider Pennsylvania's murky laws regarding children who were born through rape. Under Pennsylvania law, as is the case in almost every other state, a rapist can seek parental rights, including child custody and visitation.

It isn't difficult to imagine the wide variety of emotional problems this situation could create for the mother and the child. Nevertheless, 31 states don't offer a single restriction regarding rapists seeking custody of children born as a result of the crime. Pennsylvania is perceived to offer some of the best protections for rape victims, but that perception isn't necessarily well founded.

As a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law points out, "Pennsylvania is getting far too much credit in the popular press." He claims the state "really hasn't provided much in terms of protection" for mothers who have conceived through rape.

A study in 2000 indicates that about 25,000 rapes each year result in pregnancy, and roughly one-third of the women who become pregnant because of rape choose to give birth and raise the child. Those statistics suggest some very complex and potentially harmful child custody decisions based on the current laws.

Child custody law in Pennsylvania now provides that judges have to consider rape and 29 other types of criminal offenses, if the offenses are pertinent, when determining child custody. Still, anyone going through a custody dispute, regardless of whether rape is an issue, will need strong legal representation to ensure that the judge truly understands which parent will protect the child's best interests.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Child custody for rapists?" Todd Spivak, Sept. 27, 2012

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