Sexual assault/custody bill advances

TRENTON – A person convicted of sexual assault that results in the birth of a child would not be awarded any custody of the child under a proposal that cleared an Assembly panel Thursday.

Assembly lawmakers moved legislation through committee that would toughen the state statute that prohibits people convicted of sexual assault from gaining custody of children who are born as a result of the assault.

The bill, A3537, cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee with unanimous support.

Currently, people convicted of sexual assault are denied custody of a child except in cases where “clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child for custody or visitation rights to be awarded,” according to the bill.

The proposal removes the “best interest of the child” exception.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7), told fellow lawmakers he planned to rework parts of the proposal before it heads to the Assembly floor for a vote.

Lawmakers voiced concern about all areas of sexual assault not being “black and white,” proposing for example a case where a 20-year-old girl has sex with a 15-year-old boy and the girl’s parents pursue charges against the boy. Under the proposal, the father would not be entitled to custody.

“I see the wisdom of having some level of discussion,” Singleton said. “We are prepared to do that.”