A disabled parent seeking child custody faces additional barriers but is entitled under the law to equal treatment. For any disabled parent in a child custody case, it is critical to know your legal rights and the relevant laws that protect you and ensure you are treated fairly.
Many people with disabilities make the decision to become parents. According to the American Bar Association, more than 4.1 million people in the United States are disabled. Yet, parents with disabilities face the barrier of unjustly applied treatment in custody cases despite laws to protect them. Parents with physical disabilities that include deafness and sight impairment, use of a wheelchair, or being developmentally disabled can be separated from their children and report higher rates of loss of custody rights than the general population.
While the ability to provide care and protect a child from neglect are factors of determining custody, because of discrimination laws, disabled parents are entitled to fair treatment. Discrimination toward people with disabilities continues to exist, even with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Evidence shows that it occurs in matters of parenting and child custody. Research has shown cases where parents were stripped of their parental rights and had to seek remedies through legal battles to regain or retain custody of children, simply because they were considered disabled.
Child’s Best Interests
In determining child custody, courts are required to consider that the child’s best interests are protected. The child’s best interests can clearly include their wishes, the parents’ wishes, and whether the parents can provide a strong and stable setting for the child. A parent’s disability alone cannot be used as a factor in deciding custody. Under the ADA, the parent cannot be discriminated against for using accommodations or assistance, so for a parent in this situation, referral to appropriate support services can be helpful in gaining the support needed, such as in housing, employment, or medical benefits.
Children most benefit from a stable environment and managing the psychological stress of a divorce should be the goal of all parties, including the legal system. Legal advocates can best work toward this goal by ensuring that the disabled parent has access to the appropriate services, such as assistance with child care and adaptive aids. People with disabilities and the support of community services can provide the stable and supportive environment for children in their care. In cases of possible discrimination toward a disabled parent, it is best to consult a family law attorney to ensure that your rights are represented in a child custody matter.
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