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Rape Victims and Child Support

According to Pennsylvania law, a woman who has a child from rape can ask a judge to end the parental rights of the father. Unfortunately, if she does so she then relinquishes any rights to collect child support from him.

In February, PA representative Mike Schlossberg proposed a bill that would end this loophole in Pennsylvania, thereby allowing rape victims to end parental rights without sacrificing child support. Current state law allows the victimized parent to petition for involuntary termination of parental rights in cases such as rape, incest, and other similar situations. However, terminating parental rights also ends child support obligations. For many women this is a difficult decision. Although they have been victimized and relive this event with continual contact from the father, they cannot support the child by themselves. This is particularly a problem for lower-income single women who depend on that child support and may not have adequate family resources to assist them.

Currently 26 states allow rape victims to place their children for adoption without the father’s consent, but 31 states have no laws allowing termination of parental rights if the victim keeps the child. Only 13 states have laws that allow termination of parental rights in the case of rape, and only 6 more limit visitation or custody rights of the offender.

For many women, there is pressure to abort the child, so as to avoid the legal issues with their aggressor. In many states, rape victims who have given birth need permission from the rapist to put the child up for adoption. At the very least, the father is given notice of her intention to put the child up for adoption and has a window of time in which he can block it. Situations like this have resulted in cases where the rapist refused to give up his parental rights unless the victim agreed not to testify against him. This sort of coercion could be avoided by adopting laws similar to the ones that exist in Pennsylvania.

Although it seems that a bill like Schlossberg’s are common sense, the reason they are not more widespread are because rapists do not usually push for parental rights. Typically, the father does not actually want the child, but will use his parental rights to force his victim into dropping charges against him.

Schlossberg’s proposed bill received unanimous approval in the House’s judiciary committee, and is awaiting a vote from the full House. Hopefully more states will follow suit and propose similar legislation to protect women who are victimized in this way.