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Maryland bill would limit parental rights for sex offenders

A bill recently introduced in the Maryland General Assembly would prevent certain sex offenders from receiving custody and visitation rights if passed. A Republican senator introduced the bill to the state's Judicial Proceeding Committee after another delegate learned of two child custody cases where parents found guilty of sexual abusing minors later won custody of their child. One of the parents was later convicted of sexually abusing his child. "We need to make a higher standard for child custody," explained the delegate.

If passed, the bill would put strict limits on when parents with histories of abuse could receive parental rights. It would prohibit Maryland courts from granting child custody or visitation to fathers or mothers convicted of sexual abuse of a minor unless they clearly demonstrate "good cause" to make an exception. The bill would only affect those convicted of sexual abuse of a minor after Oct. 1, 2013.

A number of parties have voiced their support for the legislation, including one Annapolis woman whose mother suffered sexual abuse as a child and "did not get this protection." The bill also won support from the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, though the organization asked that lawmakers add an amendment more clearly specifying what constitutes "good cause."

The bill was not without opposition. One Maryland man who was found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor and himself suffered abuse as a child argued that many parents have successfully stopped their abusive behavior and have since become responsible and caring parents; he himself is now married with a young son after undergoing therapy and attending parenting classes.

The Office of the Public Defender also voiced its opposition to the bill, asserting that current laws adequately protect children from sexual abuse and allow judges to revoke a parent's custody or visitation rights based on a history of abuse. Such parents must formally request a child custody modification if they wish to reverse such a decision.

Source: Daily Record, "Bill would restrict custody rights of convicted child sex-abusers," Amber Larkins, March 3, 2013

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