The full New Jersey Assembly has approved a measure that would bar a person convicted of a sexual assault that resulted in the birth of child from obtaining custody or visitation rights to that child.

Under current law, a person convicted of sexual assault would not be awarded the custody of or visitation rights to any minor child, including a minor child who was born as a result of or was the victim of sexual assault, except upon showing by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child.

“The clear purpose of this measure is to protect the well-being of a child,” says Assemblyman Troy Singleton, one of the bill’s sponsors. “Especially in the circumstance of a parent committing the criminal act, the safety of the child is the first priority. Current law must be changed in order to make it happen.”

The bill would remove the “best interest of the child” exception in the case of a child born as a result of the sexual assault.  It also would provide that the denial of custody and visitation shall not by itself terminate parental rights or affect the obligation to support the minor child.

“Current law’s ‘best interest of a child’ exception may be putting children in harm’s way in these cases,” says Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who also sponsors the legislation. “The term ‘best interest’ is essentially voided by the nature of the crime. The child is also a victim and must be protected at all costs.”