Rape Survivor Child Custody Act

P.A. 96 of 2016
P.A. 178 of 2016
H.B. 4481 – Rep. Lisa Lyons
S.B. 858 – Sen. Rick Jones

Current Status
The two bills that make up the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act were signed into law by Governor Snyder on May 3, 2016 and June 12, 2016! The new P.A. 96 of 2016 and P.A. 178 of 2016 were given immediate effect and will be implemented across the state. H.B. 4481 was approved on April 19, 2016 by 105-3 in the House on a concurring vote.

This bill would allow a rape survivor who becomes pregnant from assault to petition the family court to terminate the parental custody and parenting time (aka “visitation”) of her assailant under a “clear and convincing” evidence standard and without the necessity of a criminal conviction. Current law provides for the termination of parental rights of a man who impregnates a woman via sexual assault if he is convicted of felony rape. Unfortunately, felony rape convictions are difficult to obtain and require a legal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This bill would make the standard for termination of custody and parenting time the same as for those who abuse or neglect their child.

Approximately 500 women per year conceive from rape in the state. More than half choose to carry the pregnancy to term and most of those women choose to parent their child. In 85% of sexual assaults, the woman knows her attacker, so there is a real possibility that he would know if she were to become pregnant. Threatening to assert paternity is a way to coerce a woman into an abortion or to get her to drop rape charges.

Several states have begun to recognize the reality that rape and pregnancy arising from assaults are a very real phenomenon. Most states have had little to no protection for rape survivors who maintain the pregnancy and choose to parent their child when the man steps forward to assert his parental rights. Aligning the legal standard for termination of custody, parenting time, and parental rights for those who sexually assault and those who abuse or neglect makes sense. The idea that a woman would have to co-parent with the man who raped her is unconscionable.

On April 14, 2016, the full Senate voted unanimously to approve the bill. On February 4, 2016, the Senate Judiciary committee unanimously approved H.B. 4481. The Michigan House of Representatives approved H.B. 4481 on October 15, 2016 by an overwhelming bi-partisan 101-4 vote. The House Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony on HB 4481 on 5/19/15.The bill was then taken up again on 6/9/15 and reported to the House floor by a vote of 5-0-3, with 5 prolife members voting Yes, and the 3 pro-abortion members abstaining. The only apparent reason for the abstaining votes was simply because RLM supported the bills with its use of the Shauna Prewitt video as part of its testimony. A strong bi-partisan vote of 101-4 was given when the bill was taken up on the House floor. H.B. 4481 was introduced on April 21, 2015, and referred to the House Committee on Criminal Justice. The Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony on H.B. 4481 on May 19, 2015, as part of a larger package of bills addressing a number of domestic violence issues.

RLM’s testimony in support of the bill included the opportunity to show a video from RLM’s compassion project featuring the story of Shauna Prewitt (click to see Shauna’s story). No votes were taken and the bills are expected to be addressed again in the near future. The governor signed into law P.A. 178 of 2016 on 6-12-16 which completes the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act. Senate bill 858 was presented to the governor on 6-2-16. On 5-25-16, just one day after the House Criminal Justice committee approved the bill, the House adopted S.B. 858 with a bi-partisan vote of 100-9. On 5-24-16 S.B. 858 was unanimously voted out to the House Criminal Justice committee. The full Senate voted to approve the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act 37-0 on 5-18-16. The Senate Judiciary committee heard testimony on S.B. 858 on 5-12-16 from both Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Prevention & Treatment Board. The committee voted unanimously to approve S.B. 858.

A second bill was introduced to permanently terminate the parental rights of a rapist. The second bill is necessary because termination of parental rights is in a different section of law than the custody and parenting provisions. This second bill is also needed to meet a requirement of a federal bill passed by Congress in Washington that will make states eligible for certain grant monies if the state’s laws ensure parental rights can be terminated by clear and convincing evidence. S.B. 858 was introduced on March 17, 2016 and referred to the Senate Judiciary committee.