The U.S. Supreme Court and Maryland Court of Appeals have recognized that parents have a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children, unless the parent is determined to be unfit or under exceptional circumstances.
However, recently, several Maryland legislators introduced a new bill that would place stricter limits on the custody and visitation rights for parents convicted of sex crimes (the bill would affect all those convicted after October 1, 2013).
Maryland State Senator Richard F. Colburn, R- Eastern Shore, and Maryland State Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R- Talbot, are supporting a bill which if approved into law, would prevent courts from awarding custody and visitation to any parent guilty of sexual abuse of a minor, unless there is “good cause” shown to award custody. Supporters of the bill argue there needs to be a higher standard for child custody determinations to protect children from abusers.
Opponents of the bill argue that existing laws already protect children from abuse. The Best Interest of the Child is the current standard in Maryland and the courts use the standard when making a custody and visitation determinations. The Best Interest standard allows for the court to consider evidence of abuse or past abuse, which opponents believe is protection for children.
Additionally, opponents of the bill argue that guilty offenders who made the mistake early on in their adult years often turn their lives around to have meaningful marriages and families in their adult life. This bill would allow for their conviction to dictate the relationship they have with their children while still requiring them to pay child support and guaranteeing that they will have no access to their children. In their opinion, the current law takes many factors into consideration and doesn’t give a blanket restriction because of a sex crime conviction but rather allows the courts to view each case on a fact by fact basis.
Currently, the bill has 30 Maryland State Senators and 77 Maryland State Delegates supporting the legislation. If you need assistance in a child custody matter, please contact attorneys Mary Ellen Flynn or Amanda Vann.