HB 1984 passes: PA Legislature protects single, survivor parents

In October 2020, the Pennsylvania General Assembly unanimously enacted House Bill 1984 (Benninghoff, R-Center and Mifflin). This bill advances the rights of survivors of sexual assault in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, biological parents have equal rights to their child, even when one parent raped the other parent and the child is the product of that assault. Unfortunately, a survivor parent who has won sole custody of the child was open to being contacted, harassed, and abused by their rapist because they were unable to terminate the assailant’s rights to the child. Because of prior state of the law, single survivor parents were unable to prevent their rapist from maintaining power over them through their rights to the child.

Prior to HB 1984, single and non-married survivors of sexual assault were treated differently than married survivors of sexual assault. Up until HB 1984, the Pennsylvania legislature had codified that an assailant parent’s rights could be terminated when a child was result of rape, only when a survivor parent had a spouse who was willing to adopt the child. This inequity ignored the validity and competency of single survivor parents, predominately women, who were working hard to build good lives for their children.

HB 1984 closes a loophole in Pennsylvania’s Adoption Act that undermined the safety and well-being of survivors, children, and families. In passing HB 1984, the Pennsylvania legislature recognizes the reality that families come in all forms and a home that is safe and loving with one parent is always better than a dangerous home with two parents.

PLA’s Family Law Unit attorneys are experts in the field of custody and survivor advocacy. Representative Benninghoff’s office reached out to them for consultation on this legislation, and PLA attorneys provided background on how the current law and procedure was affecting parents.

PLA is hopeful that House Bill 1984 will increase justice in Philadelphia Family Court.