Can a Rapist get Named as the Legal Father of my Child?

Can a rapist get himself named as the legal father of your child? Not anymore.

Up until about a year ago, however, they totally could. The law didn’t explicitly allow someone who had committed rape (or any other sexual assault that resulted in conception) to pursue the status of legal father — but didn’t stop them until after they had convicted of a crime.

The problem being that criminal cases can take months or years to reach a conclusion — and that’s not including the chance of a mistrial or any appeals or other complications. And if the assailant happens to be malicious enough to apply for legal fatherhood while his case is still progressing, he might very well succeed. If he does, only the State of Michigan can step in and terminate those rights later.

A Problem of Unknown Enormity
Until about five years ago, most states simply didn’t consider the idea that a rapist would pursue custody as legal father. A big part of that had to do with the image that the word “rapist” conjures up in conversation, and how completely disconnected it is with the reality.

The reality is that most rapists aren’t knife-wielding, home-invading strangers looking to work out their misogyny on a stranger that happens to look like their ex. According to RAINN,

  • 45% of rapists are acquaintances (i.e. friends, co-workers, schoolmates, etc.),
  • 25% of rapists are current or former ‘significant others’ (married or un-),
  • 1% of rapists are non-‘significant’ relatives (i.e. incestuous rape),
  • 6% of rapists are not remembered or are gang rapes, and only
  • Only 28% of rapists are strangers.
  • In cases with juvenile victims, 59% are acquaintances, 34% were family members, and only 7% were strangers.

So knowing that very close to 2/3rds of all rape is committed by someone the victim is familiar with, these numbers start to make a different kind of sense:

  • Every year, across the US, there are somewhere around 17,000-32,000 pregnancies from rape.
  • And somewhere between 1/3rd and 1/2 of all rape victims choose to keep their babies.
  • Which means the math works out to somewhere between 5,200 and 16,000 babies are born to rapists, and (using the (28%+6%=34%) number above), between 3,400 and 10,500 of those mothers know their babies’ fathers.

Part of the Movement in the Right Direction
Fortunately, since the problem was widely publicized by Mother Jones in 2012, most states (43/50) have put some form of law in place to protect mothers and their babies from sexually criminal fathers. (Unfortunately, none yet have laws in place to protect fathers from rapist mothers who choose to bear their children despite the man’s objections. That’s still a bit too much for most of our nation’s legislators to wrap their brains around.)

Michigan made a big step forward last year when they added this paragraph to MCL 712A.19b (which has still not been edited into place on the online version, but is actually on the books right between paragraph 3[n(iii)] and 4:

(O) THE PARENT HAS BEEN CONVICTED OF OR FOUND IN A FACT-FINDING HEARING TO HAVE COMMITTED CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT AND THAT CONDUCT RESULTED IN THE CHILD BEING CONCEIVED

The important part of this paragraph are the words “or found in a fact-finding hearing” — because every civil or criminal case brought against someone relating to a sexual assault starts with a fact-finding hearing, to establish that the case deserves to be brought in front of the court in the first place.

Which means that all you need to do to protect your child from having your attacker as their legal father is to have your child’s legal representative (a guardian ad litem hired just for this purpose) bring any sort of case against the father relating to the sexual assault that resulted in the conception of  the child. By the time the case gets on the calendar of any courtroom, your child is safe — and that makes Michigan one of the better states to live in for women who find themselves in this horrible circumstance.

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