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In general, fathers have the right to establish paternity and seek parental rights, no matter how long the relationship with the child’s mother was. In other words, even a casual fling can produce a child, and the father may choose to be a part of his son or daughter’s life, giving both his money and his time.

But sometimes, a child is born as the result of rape. This awful scenario happens more often than people in Florida may realize. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 32,000 sexual assaults result in pregnancy each year. It may surprise readers to learn that, in most states, the rapist has the right to seek child custody and visitation time he fathered against the mother’s will. Florida law does allow termination of parental rights for rapists.

Lawmakers in Ohio are seeking to enact a similar law. The issue became especially prominent after Ariel Castro, the man convicted of holding three women captive for years and sexually abusing them, sought visitation rights with a child he fathered with one of his victims. Castro later died, but some observers were against the idea that a similar claim could arise in the future.

One bill would revoke parental rights to any parent convicted of rape or sexual assault where the incident resulted in a child. Another would go further, not requiring a conviction, but allowing the other parent to file a complaint against the alleged rapist in family law court.

Thankfully, few children in Florida are born under such troubling circumstances. However, parents may disagree over child custody and visitation arrangements, requiring them to go to court to settle the issue.

Source: The Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Senate panel could advance legislation to block rapists’ parental rights,” Jackie Borchardt, May 20, 2014