The tragic case of a young woman's rape and resulting pregnancies made Pennsylvania legislators aware of a loophole in state law that allowed her rapist to have normal parental rights to the children who resulted from his attacks.
The woman, whose initials are M.E., was repeatedly raped by her stepfather for more than 15 years, resulting in two living children and one miscarriage.
M.E.'s stepfather had kept journals and photos documenting his abuse of her, and prosecutors used these to convict him.
He pleaded guilty in 2014 in Michigan to rape and other charges, and he was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in state prison in one county and 15 to 50 years in another county. One year later, he pleaded guilty in a Pennsylvania court to child rape and other charges. A Pennsylvania judge sentenced him to 44 to 128 years in state prison, which he will serve after he completes his sentence in Michigan. With the three sentences, it is very unlikely that he will be free again.
However, after M.E. reported the abuse, she learned that her stepfather's parental rights could not be terminated under Pennsylvania law until she could show that someone else, presumably a new partner, stood ready to adopt her children. And until his parental rights were terminated, her stepfather still had a legal right to shared custody of the children, including visitation – even if that meant she had to take the children to the prison to visit him.
Though a federal law that was passed in 2015, the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, provides a financial incentive to states that pass laws to terminate parental rights of someone convicted of rape, only 32 states and the District of Columbia currently allow for parental rights to be terminated when a child is conceived as a result of rape.
Pennsylvania, like half of states in the U.S., uses the “clear and convincing evidence” legal standard to determine a child was conceived as a result of a rape in order to terminate parental rights. Admissible evidence might include medical records, trauma counseling, and therapy records, and testimony from the victim, witnesses, and the alleged perpetrator.
After M.E.'s case brought the so-called adoption loophole to light, the rule that required M.E. to have someone waiting to adopt her children before her stepfather's rights could be terminated, Pennsylvania legislators acted to change the loophole, and Governor Tom Wolf has said he will sign the bill into law.
For men who have been accused of rape but not convicted, the law should not impact parental rights as their rights cannot be terminated without a rape conviction. If the prosecution fails to meet the “clear and convincing” legal standard needed for a rape conviction, the accuser will not be able to have parental rights terminated.
If you, or someone you care about, has been accused of rape and is concerned about losing his parental rights, the Lento Law Firm can help. We have successfully defended and advised men in this situation and can help you navigate this difficult situation. Call us today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.