By Meghan McCann
Between 17,000 and 32,000 rape-related pregnancies occur in the United States each year, according to multiple sources.
If the pregnancy is carried to term, and the victim chooses to raise the child, the perpetrator would have the parental rights to request custody or visitation with the child, requiring the victim and perpetrator to remain in contact indefinitely.
So far, 26 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation dealing with the parental rights of perpetrators of sexual assault who conceive a child as a result. Four of those states enacted legislation during the 2014 legislative session.
You can find out which states have enacted legislation by visiting NCSL’s Parental Rights and Sexual Assault page, which goes into further detail and provides links and statutory language from these laws.
Within these categories are varying standards of proof, but in general, to terminate parental rights, there must be a conviction or clear and convincing evidence of sexual assault. The standard of proof varies but is typically lower to prohibit or restrict custody and visitation.
In addition, eight states and the District of Columbia allow for the collection of child support even if the custody and visitation rights have been restricted or terminated. Oregon allows for the collection of child support even in situations where the parental rights have been terminated.
This process of collecting child support from a former abuser or perpetrator of domestic violence or sexual assault can be difficult and potentially dangerous. NCSL’s Child Support Project tracks legislation designed to ease this process in the Child Support and Family Law Legislation Database, under the Family Violence Collaboration topic.
Meghan McCann is a policy specialist with NCSL’s Children and Families Program and works primarily on child support, family law and child welfare policy.