***UPDATE: On October 17 Judge Ross reversed his order and terminated the parental rights of the rapist***
A widely-reported case in Sanilac County has led to the first known court case involving Michigan's Rape Survivor Child Custody Act of 2016. The Act increased legal protection for rape survivors facing child custody cases.
Sanilac County Circuit Court Judge Gregory S. Ross granted joint legal custody of an eight-year-old child to a man convicted of attempted third degree criminal sexual conduct against the child's mother. The mother is challenging the ruling and a hearing is scheduled for October 25.
Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said, "This case is exactly why we passed this law. When we became aware of this hole in Michigan law, the need to fill it became glaring."
Prior to passage of the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, termination of parental rights in Michigan involving a child conceived in rape required a felony rape conviction. Felony rape convictions are often difficult to obtain, however.
The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act now allows rape survivors who become pregnant from assault to terminate the parental rights of their attacker under a "clear and convincing" evidence standard without the necessity of a criminal conviction. "Clear and convincing" is the same evidentiary standard used in custody cases involving suspected child abuse or neglect.
The sex offender in this case, Christopher Mirasolo, was convicted in 2008 of attempted rape in a plea deal. He served less than a year in jail. In the eyes of the law, the child was not conceived in rape because Mirasolo was only found guilty of an attempted rape.
Right to Life of Michigan was contacted about the case and the mother was immediately referred to Michigan attorney Rebecca Kiessling. Kiessling was conceived in rape and is an internationally-known prolife speaker. Her organization Save the 1 advocates for legal protection of children conceived in rape, incest, or who have special needs. Kiessling is representing the mother pro bono.
Listing said, "We often get calls asking for legal help in a variety of situations. For this call we had just the right law and the right assistance in place to help this mother facing this terrible legal situation."
The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act came about following Right to Life of Michigan's Compassion Project campaign in 2015 highlighting the issue of rape and abortion. One of the four women who participated in the Compassion Project, Shauna, faced a similar situation. Shauna became pregnant following an assault. Her attacker filed for custody of her daughter to induce Shauna to drop the charges against him. Shauna has worked in other states to change their laws to be more protective of rape survivors.
Kiessling helped connect Right to Life of Michigan with Shauna and other women involved in the Compassion Project. Their stories are also featured in the 30-minute documentary "Life Uninvited," which first aired in January 2016.
The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act was passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in 2016. The Michigan Senate passed it unanimously and the final Michigan House vote was 101 to 4.
Listing said, "It's unfortunate that politics surrounding rape and abortion often results in real women and children with serious issues being ignored. Without Shauna and Rebecca educating people about this issue, the mother in this case could be forced to live with her rapist having legally-protected access to her child."