Measure Would Prohibit Custody and Visitation for Anyone Convicted of Sexual Assault
(Trenton) – The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved today legislation that would prohibit a person convicted of a sexual assault that resulted in the birth of child from obtaining custody or visitation rights to that child. The measure is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, Pamela R. Lampitt, Gabriela M. Mosquera, Herb Conaway, Jr., and Bonnie Watson Coleman.
“The clear purpose of this measure is to protect the well-being of a child,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Especially in the circumstance of a parent committing the criminal act, the safety of the child is the first priority. Current law must be changed in order to make it happen.”
“Current law’s ‘best interest of a child’ exception may be putting children in harm’s way in these cases,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “The term ‘best interest’ is essentially voided by the nature of the crime. The child is also a victim and must be protected at all costs.”
“Our priority remains to protect our children and families with strong legislative actions,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “We must make sure the children do not remain victims. This bill takes great step toward protecting these children from further victimization.”
Under current law, a person convicted of sexual assault would not be awarded the custody of or visitation rights to any minor child, including a minor child who was born as a result of or was the victim of sexual assault, except upon showing by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child.
The bill (A-3537) would remove the “best interest of the child” exception in the case of a child born as a result of the sexual assault. Under the bill’s provisions, the “best interest of the child” exception will be kept in tact in the other situations encompassed by current law. It also would provide that the denial of custody and visitation shall not by itself terminate parental rights or affect the obligation to support the minor child.
“Children who are exposed to fragile situations of sexual assault or domestic violence need and deserve greater protection under the law,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Sexual assault is an unspeakable violation. No child should be placed in a situation where this or any type harm has the potential to occur.”
“Committing a crime of this nature annuls any clear and convincing evidence of being a good parental figure or nurturing to a child,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “New Jersey law must be strengthened to protect children in these situations.”
‘Children, in these cases especially, deserve a chance to live a life free from harm and any potential victimization,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hudson). “This is legislative action truly serving the best interest of the child.”
The measure was released by the Assembly panel under the provision that the sponsors will continue to consider further amendments to the bill that would allow judges to employ discretion under certain circumstances.