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Maryland proposal would bar certain sex offenders from custody

Under current Maryland child custody laws, a parent who sexually abuses a child may still have custody and unrestricted parenting time with his or her children, depending upon what a judge decides. However, under a new proposal, a parent convicted of a certain type of sex offense will not be allowed to have either child custody or unsupervised visits with his or her children.

Two cases prompted lawmakers to formulate this bill. In one case, a couple sexually abused two teens, including one relative. However, the couple will have a legal opportunity to get custody of their son after they serve their respective prison sentences.

In a separate case, a woman discovered that her new husband had been abusive toward her daughter from a previous relationship. She filed for divorce, but the man managed to convince a judge that he ought to have unrestricted parenting time with the couple’s biological son. Now, the man has allegedly abused his son as well despite the woman’s efforts to prevent further sex abuse.

The bill in its current form does not cover all crimes against children, however. It only covers a specific type of sex crime; if a parent avoids that specific charge, even via a plea bargain, he or she may still get visits with his or her children.

The bill is still being considered by both houses of the Maryland General Assembly, and lawmakers may amend the bill before its final passage (assuming, of course, that the bill passes into law at all). In the meantime, Maryland judges will continue to decide custody and parenting issues involving sex abuse using the best interest of the child standard. This could mean in some situations that a parent has to share his or her child with a person who has been convicted of a sex offense against children.

Source: “Shore legislators eye sex abuse custody loophole,” Jennifer Shutt, Jan. 4, 2013

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