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Paternal rights, child marriage bills fall short, expected to return

A bill to terminate parental rights of an individual who conceived a child and was convicted of or found to have committed a non-consensual sexual act will be back next year, supporters say. ‘We absolutely are going to keep coming back until rapists don’t have parental rights,’ says Lisae Jordan of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. (File photo)

A bill to terminate parental rights of an individual who conceived a child and was convicted of or found to have committed a non-consensual sexual act will be back next year, supporters say. ‘We absolutely are going to keep coming back until rapists don’t have parental rights,’ says Lisae Jordan of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. (File photo)

Legislation to allow courts to strip rights from a parent who conceived a child through non-consensual intercourse failed in the General Assembly again this year, as did a push to ban marriage for anyone younger than 18.

Cross-filed bills which would have authorized courts to terminate parental rights of an individual who conceived a child and was convicted of or found to have committed a non-consensual sexual act has been introduced annually in recent years with the support of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

This year’s version, House Bill 428, “was close,” according to Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery and the legislation’s sponsor.

Amendments to the bill in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and on the floor concerned advocates, Dumais said, and no agreement could be reached in a conference committee before the session ended Tuesday at midnight.

Lisae Jordan, executive director of MCASA, said she believes if the bill had been brought to conference earlier an agreement could have been reached.

“We absolutely are going to keep coming back until rapists don’t have parental rights,” she said.

Child marriage

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary made a second attempt to do away with exceptions to Maryland’s minimum marriage age but a last-minute compromise with the Judicial Proceedings Committee never had time to be finalized.

House Bill 799 would have banned marriage for anyone under 18, eliminating current provisions that allow a 16- or 17-year-old to get married with parental permission or proof of pregnancy. A 15-year-old can get married with both.

The Senate version was amended in committee to prohibit 15-year-olds from marrying. A conference committee was appointed late Monday but an agreement to make the minimum age 17-and-a-half years could not be finalized before session ended.

“It was incredibly disappointing after two years of trying to get that done but I will be back next year and we will try it again,” said Atterbeary, D-Howard.

Divorce changes

A provision that prevented use of a domestic violence order in a divorce proceeding was successfully repealed this session after changes in Maryland divorce law made it “obsolete,” according to Dumais, a family law practitioner.

The law was initially passed 25 years ago in an effort to prevent petitioners from using protective orders to get a “quick divorce” based on voluntary separation or constructive desertion. In light of recent changes to the divorce statute that did away with voluntary separation as a ground for divorce and added cruelty of treatment, however, the issuance of a protective order doesn’t substantially benefit either party in the divorce but can save the court time, providing evidence of the date of separation.

Despite an initial amendment in the Senate, the original version of the bill, a straight repeal, passed.


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