Where rapists can gain parental rights

If a child is conceived through sexual assault, the rules vary widely on the parental rights of the attacker.

(CNN)It's an almost unimaginable scenario: a victim of rape being forced to face her attacker over custody rights for a child conceived during an assault.

"Almost" is the key word, because it's a situation that can easily happen in states across the United States. The shorthand for this occurrence is often referred to as "parental rights for rapists," a phrase that's mind-boggling but accurate in its representation of the issue.
Without any legislation stopping a sexual assailant from claiming parental rights of a child, individuals are free and clear to pursue custody or visitation rights of their biological offspring.

The big picture of how parental rights for rapists are treated across the US

    Seven states don't have any laws preventing a rapist from claiming parental rights, but that's not to say that these states are oblivious to the issue. Maryland, for one, has been working for years to pass a law that would allow a rape victim to terminate her attacker's parental rights.
    Forty-three other states and the District of Columbia have legislation that offers at least some protection to prevent rape victims from facing their attackers over parental rights; eight of those laws were just adopted in 2016.
    But these legislative protections vary greatly. In 20 states and D.C., a rape conviction is required before a victim can request termination of parental rights.
    For advocates, this is a problematic barrier, since the majority of sexual assaults don't even make it to prosecution, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (PDF).
    Between 2005 and 2010, just 36% of the nearly 300,000 annual average rape or sexual assault victimizations were reported to police, the bureau reports. Even when you look at both reported and unreported rapes during that time period, roughly 12% of victimizations resulted in arrests.
    That means in nearly half the states that have legislation meant to prevent rapists from claiming parental rights, a victim is still vulnerable to having to face her attacker if there wasn't a conviction in her case -- and that's if she reported it and if it was prosecuted.
    There are also exceptions, called "carve-outs," to consider. Some states may not apply these parental rights laws if, say, the person convicted of sexual assault is the spouse of the victim at the time of the attack or if they were cohabiting after the assault.
    In Indiana, timing is everything: The victim must petition to have her assailant's parental rights terminated less than three months after the child's birth unless the victim is younger than 18. In Nebraska, the law applies only to sexual assault in the first degree.

    Use the menu below to see the general rules in your state.

    Alabama

    This state is one of the few that doesn't have any law to prevent rapists from seeking custody of children conceived during an attack.

    Alaska

    Parental rights can be terminated by court order if the parent committed sexual assault (or a similar offense) as defined by the laws of the state and termination is determined to be in the best interest of the child.

    Arizona

    In the spring of 2016 Arizona passed a law stripping any person with a sexual assault conviction of parenting time with any child conceived during the attack.

    Arkansas

    If an individual is convicted of sexual assault in this state, the person's parental rights may be immediately terminated for any children conceived during the attack. But, the rapist is still required to pay child support.

    California

    If a person is convicted of sexual assault in California, that individual loses custody and visitation rights to any child conceived during the attack.

    Colorado

    Like most states, Colorado also looks for a rape conviction for parental rights to be terminated for the person who committed the assault. But a person claiming to be a sexual assault victim can also petition the court to terminate the rights of an alleged assailant who hasn't been convicted on the grounds that it's in the best interest of the child.

    Connecticut

    This state allows parental rights to be terminated as long as there's clear and convincing evidence that a parent conceived the child through sexual assault.

    Delaware

    A biological father convicted of sexual assault in this state loses visitation rights if the child was conceived during the attack.

    District of Columbia

    In the nation's capital, a sexual assault conviction strips a person of legal and physical custody, as well as visitation rights. It doesn't, however, strip the requirement of child support.

    Florida

    A court in this state may terminate parental rights if there's clear and convincing evidence that the parent conceived the child through an act of rape.

    Georgia

    In 2016, this state passed a law allowing its courts to terminate the parental rights of a parent who conceived a child through rape.

    Hawaii

    In July 2016, Hawaii passed a law stating that parental rights may be terminated if there's clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived through sexual assault.

    Idaho

    Courts in this state can terminate the parental rights of individuals who conceived a child through rape, presuming that it's in the best interest of the child.

    Illinois

    Custody and visitation rights are prohibited for individuals who conceive a child through sexual assault. The state of Illinois will consider either a rape conviction or clear and convincing evidence of conception through assault in these cases.

    Indiana

    The state's law, passed in March 2016, allows a rape victim who had a child conceived through sexual assault to petition for termination of the parental rights for the assailant. No conviction is required, but those who are 18 or older need to file to terminate the rights within 180 days of the child's birth.

    Iowa

    In March 2016, this state adopted a law that allows a court to terminate the parental rights of an alleged sexual assailant if there's clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived through rape. Child support is still required.

    Kansas

    Courts in this state may terminate parental rights if there's clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived through rape.

    Kentucky

    Those convicted of rape in this state will have their parental rights terminated in regards to any children conceived through assault, unless the other parent waives her right to protection.

    Louisiana

    Parental rights here can be terminated if felony rape led to the child's conception.

    Maine

    According to a law passed in 2016, a court can terminate parental rights if a parent is convicted of rape or if there's clear and convincing evidence that the child in question was conceived through rape.

    Maryland

    This state has been working for years to establish a law that would terminate parental rights for sexual assailants who conceive children through rape. Such legislation has yet to get past the state's lawmakers.

    Massachusetts

    Courts here bar those who conceived a child through rape from having visitation rights unless a judge determines that the child is of suitable age, agrees to visitation and that visitation rights are in the child's best interest.

    Michigan

    In August 2016, this state passed a law that allows a court to revoke parental rights if there's clear and convincing evidence that a child was conceived through sexual assault. This law doesn't apply, however, if the parents lived together and shared custodial duties for the child.

    Minnesota

    This state does not currently have any legislation protecting mothers who conceived their child through rape from facing their attackers over custody and visitation rights.

    Mississippi

    This state does not currently have any legislation protecting mothers who conceived their child through rape from facing their attackers over custody and visitation rights.

    Missouri

    Parental rights may be terminated for the biological father when it's shown that the child in question was born as a result of an act of forcible rape or rape in the first degree.

    Montana

    Parental rights may be terminated here if a person is convicted of sexual assault and a child was born as a result.

    Nebraska

    An individual who's convicted of sexual assault in this state may lose parental rights to any child conceived during the attack.

    Nevada

    If a child has been conceived through rape and the attacker is convicted for the crime, that person loses custody and visitation rights to the child.

    New Hampshire

    Parental rights can be terminated in this state in cases where the child was conceived during a sexual assault.

    New Jersey

    A rape conviction here can strip a person of parental rights to any child, unless there's "clear and convincing evidence" that custody and/or visitation is in the best interest of the child.

    New Mexico

    This state does not currently have any legislation protecting mothers who conceived their child through rape from facing their attackers over custody and visitation rights.

    New York

    This state presumes that it's not in the best interest of a child to visit or be placed in the custody of a parent who has been convicted of sexual assault when that child's conception was the result of the sexual abuse.

    North Carolina

    Parental rights may be terminated for a parent who conceived a child through rape and was convicted for the assault.

    North Dakota

    This state does not currently have any legislation protecting mothers who conceived their child through rape from facing their attackers over custody and visitation rights.

    Ohio

    A rape victim in this state who had a child as a result of sexual assault can request that the parental rights be terminated of the parent who was convicted of the act.

    Oklahoma

    If it's found that a child was conceived during rape, the perpetrator's rights can be stripped away.

    Oregon

    Parental rights may be terminated if a court finds that the parent conceived the child through rape, and was convicted for that act.

    Pennsylvania

    Parental rights may be terminated if a court finds that the parent conceived the child through rape.

    Rhode Island

    If a person has been convicted of sexual assault in this state, they won't be granted parental custody or visitation rights.

    South Carolina

    Conception of a child through sexual assault is grounds for termination of parental rights in this state.

    South Dakota

    Parental rights can be restricted or terminated for any person who conceived a child through sexual assault.

    Tennessee

    A rape conviction in this state will kickstart the process of removing parental rights for a sexual assailant whose attack led to the conception of a child.

    Texas

    Parental rights may be terminated in this state if a court finds that a person committed an act of sexual assault that resulted in the conception of the child.

    Utah

    A person convicted of sexual assault here may be stripped of custody or visitation rights with a child conceived through rape.

    Vermont

    The court may deny parental rights if there's clear and convincing evidence that the individual carried out a sexual assault that resulted in the conception of the child.

    Virginia

    A rape conviction bars an individual from being considered a "person of legitimate interest" in regards to the child when the child was conceived as a result of the assault.

    Washington

    A conviction of rape in this state can open the door for a court to move to terminate parental rights for any child conceived during the assault.

    West Virginia

    If an individual is convicted of sexual assault and a child was conceived during the act, the person loses parental rights to the child unless the court finds clear and convincing evidence that maintaining the parental rights of the convicted parent is in the child's best interest.

    Wisconsin

    Becoming a parent as a result of sexual assault is grounds for terminating parental rights in this state.

    Wyoming

    No laws currently exist to protect a rape victim who has a child due to the assault from having to face a challenge from her attacker over custody rights.