A recent editorial in the Washington Postdiscussed the inconsistencies in Maryland's laws regarding registered sex offenders and child custody proceedings. The case involved a man who is a registered-for-life sex offender in that state. The man is legally prevented from entering any school or child-care facility without written permission. Despite this, he is allowed to have unsupervised, overnight visits with his four-year-old son – despite fierce protests from the child's mother.
The Washington Post called on legislators in Maryland to fix the gaping holes in their legal system that the paper claims ignores the potential risks to the welfare of children in favor of allowing both biological parents access to the kid. The paper says that family law experts in Maryland often remark that judges view any parent that raises possible concerns about the other as having ulterior motives, often discounting or completely disregarding sometimes serious warnings.
The case brings to mind South Carolina's family laws, which have addressed this very issue previously. Can sex offenders get custody here in our state? In an important case, Payne v. Payne, the South Carolina Court of Appeals dealt with a case where the father was a convicted sex offender. The Court noted that the father had undergone counseling and other remedial measures, and while it acknowledged the importance of considering such convictions, it did not decide that the conviction was, by itself, dispositive in determining custody.
The Court instead found that while a court can and should consider a party's status on a sex offender registry when making its decision regarding custody, the amount of weight given to the issue is up to the judge, and it should not automatically bar any parent from having contact with their child. Instead, South Carolina Family Courts are called on to look at the totality of the circumstances when making a custody determination. This broader view should allow the courts to more accurately determine the best interest of the child.
Source: “Maryland law on sex offenders and child custody must be revisited,” published atWashingtonPost.com.