By Colleen Cunnally, Esq
As a Massachusetts divorce and family law attorney and mediator, I’ve been following the case of the convicted rapist who, as a condition of his probation, was ordered to financially support the child born to his then eighth-grade victim. The father’s age at the time of the offense has been reported at 20, but another story on the ABC News website reported his age at 17. He and the victim met at a church youth group according to reports.
Now the father, who plead guilty and was sentenced to 16 years probation, wants access to the child. There has been a call from some state legislators for a new bill that would prohibit rapists from visiting their children.
I would likely support a bill that would strip rapists of parental rights. However, the fact parental rights are terminated does not mean a parent is “off the hook” for financial support.
There is some legal controversy over the decision of the Superior Court Judge who essentially remanded the case to Probate and Family Court in order to compel the rapist to financially support the child. This procedural issue may be appealed to the Appeals Court. However, Per M.G.L., Ch. 215, the Probate and Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over child custody and visitation matters.
I will leave the procedural issues to the appeals court and stick to the discussion about the interplay between child support and visitation. Just because a parent pays child support does not mean he/she automatically gets visitation rights with their child. Children are not for sale. There are plenty of parents who pay child support who never see their children. The opposite is also true – there are parents who do see their children and do not financially support them.
Maybe it’s because I understand that issues of custody and visitation belong in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court, but I for one, think the rapist should pay for the child. I also understand that no matter what happened in criminal court, the rapist could have filed on his own, a Complaint to Establish Paternity or a Complaint for Custody/Support/Visitation pursuant to M.G.L. 209C with the Probate and Family Court.
Now I agree, the idea of this man visiting this child is just plain ICKY. Under current Massachusetts law, a Probate and Family Court Judge has the authority to make a visitation decision after considering what is in the best interests of the child. For those of us who handle Massachusetts child custody and visitation cases, allegations of a child’s conception as the result of rape are not that unusual. It happens more often than the public could probably imagine.
I find it horrible the rape victim may now face her abuser again in the Probate and Family Court. I am confident the judges of the Probate and Family Court will make the right call in this case with respect to the abuser’s contact with this child. If the child (and the Mother and her parent’s) life can be less burdened by additional financial support, I am all for it. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue has the power per M.G.L. ch. 119A to serve as the collector of the child support payments in order to ensure the rapist has no contact with his victim or the child.
Colleen Cunnally is a divorce and family law attorney and mediator with The Divorce Collaborative of Bedford, Franklin, and Shrewsbury. Colleen also handles complex Massachusetts child support and custody cases, including interstate and international child support issues and paternity matters.
Do you have questions about child custody, child support, or divorce in the Bedford, Lexington, Westborough, Shrewsbury, Franklin, Milford, or Norfolk areas? Please call The Divorce Collaborative to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys. (508) 346-3805
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