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Can Nonconsensual Sexual Acts Terminate Child Custody Rights In Maryland?

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Under Maryland family law, both of a child’s birth parents typically enjoy the same rights from a child custody perspective. But there are certain circumstances in which a parent does not have custody or visitation rights with respect to their child. This outcome applies to circumstances where pregnancy occurs because of a sex crime, referred to legally as “nonconsensual sexual conduct.”

What is the Definition of Nonconsensual Sexual Conduct?

Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-1401 provides the definition of nonconsensual sexual conduct. This term refers to:

  • Rape in the first degree;
  • Rape in the second degree; or
  • Incest, if the victim is a minor, and the perpetrator is at least four years older than the victim.

When Do Parental Rights Terminate for Nonconsensual Sexual Conduct?

Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-1402 furnishes the conditions for termination of parental rights for nonconsensual sexual conduct. The Maryland courts may terminate parental rights under this section if it:

  • Determines that the perpetrator has been convicted of committing a nonconsensual sexual act against the victim that resulted in the conception of a child; or
  • Finds by clear and convincing evidence that the perpetrator committed a nonconsensual sexual act against the victim that resulted in the conception of a child; and
  • Finds by clear and convincing evidence that termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child.

What is the Effect of Termination of Parental Rights?

Section 5-1402 also explains the impact of a termination of parental rights for nonconsensual sexual conduct. If the Maryland courts terminate parental rights in this context, it means that the parent who committed the nonconsensual sexual act:

  • Loses their right to custody or guardianship of, access to, visitation with, and inheritance from the child; and
  • Will no longer have to pay child support or otherwise support the child.

Is there a Time Limit to File for Termination of Parental Rights?

Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-1403 establishes the statute of limitations to file for termination of parental rights due to nonconsensual sexual conduct. A parent must take legal action within seven years of:

  • The birthdate of the child conceived as a result of nonconsensual sexual conduct; or
  • The date that the parent knew, or should or have known, the identity of the other parent who committed the nonconsensual sexual act.

That being said, Section 5-1403 also enables a court-appointed guardian or attorney to file for termination of parental rights on behalf of the child. In these circumstances, the guardian or attorney must take legal action before the child becomes an adult.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you have legal questions about child custody, don’t hesitate to contact the Bel Air child custody attorneys at Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered. Reach out to us today for a consultation.

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