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Should children have contact with a convicted sex offender?

In Michigan last Monday, a court heard a women’s application to permit her new boyfriend to have contact with her children, despite agreeing during her divorce last year that he would be restricted, as he is a sex offender.

The applicant, Rachael Lanni of Warren, Michigan, divorced Anthony Lanni in May 2015. Child arrangements were reached between them, which included a written agreement that Mrs Lanni’s new boyfriend Thomas Ireland would be prohibited from contact with their two children, who are both under the age of ten.

Mrs Lanni had agreed to this arrangement, as her relationship with Mr Ireland was still in its early stages. She claims she had not anticipated its longterm nature. She is now intending to marry Mr Ireland, and so applied to the court to have the wording of the agreement revoked.

Mr Ireland was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1994 when he was eighteen years old, and the victim was fourteen. He was sentenced to one year in prison with 400 hours of community service. He must remain on the register for twenty-five years (until 2020).

In reference to Mr Ireland’s criminal past, Mrs Lanni’s lawyer stated, 'this was twenty-two years ago… he is an upstanding citizen of Macomb County and the state of Michigan. Has he done anything since that would show he is a danger? The answer is resoundingly no'.

Mrs Lanni’s lawyers are arguing that there is no longer a need to restrict Mr Ireland, and that the agreement now only serves to restrict the wife’s new relationship from progressing, and preventing the children building a relationship with their potential step-father.

Mr Lanni’s lawyers however, consider that the needs of the children should outweigh those of Mrs Lanni. Their concern was that the children could potentially suffer if Mr Ireland lived with the family. They cited in their argument a psychological study of the effect on children of having a parent who is on the sex offender register, which suggests that they are often stigmatised. They were therefore looking to minimise the chance of harassment, ridicule or depression in the children’s lives. Mr Lanni also sought a costs order for this hearing, as he deemed his ex-wife’s application to be frivolous.

Mr Ireland only admitted a week before the judgment that the offence for which he was convicted was not a consensual sexual act. Mr Lanni’s legal position is therefore that this new boyfriend is a potential danger to his children.

Judge Matthew Switalski, sitting in Macomb County Court, handed down judgment last Tuesday, rejecting the wife’s application to lift the ban. He upheld the original agreement, as the ex-wife knew what she was agreeing to when she signed the agreement:

The key thing is she signed the judgement… everybody’s got a sob story when something doesn’t go right after they agree to it… she has no good reason… other than her situation changed.

Judge Switalski did not agree however that this application was frivolous in nature, and therefore rejected Mr Lanni’s request that his ex-wife pay $5,000 towards his legal fees.

Mrs Lanni’s legal team have considered that it may be more likely that this application would be more successful in four years time, once Mr Ireland is no longer on the sex offender register.

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