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Study: disabled parents likely to lose child custody disputes

When family law courts in Maryland face child custody cases, they aspire to determine and provide for the best interests of the child. This means that both parents go into the process as natural guardians of the child, equally responsible for his or her support and care. The court then considers a number of factors about each parent, such as fitness, character, and relationship with the child, among other things.

Of course, while courts aim to complete this process fairly and without giving either parent an undue advantage, a bias or prejudice may sometimes exist. While some say that mothers tend to be favored over fathers, a recent study points to a group that is consistently discriminated against in custody cases. Parents with disabilities are reportedly quite likely to lose custody of children in divorce.

The study was performed by the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency. The researchers found that the U.S. legal system is doing a poor job of protecting the rights of parents with disabilities, and not only when it comes to divorce.

Disabled parents are more at risk of losing their children to child welfare agencies, to be refused reproductive treatments, and to face barriers to adoption, than nondisabled parents.

In some cases, of course, a disabled parent may be unfit. The same is true of nondisabled parents. However, this study has found that disability discrimination is affecting parents who are perfectly capable of raising children.

In one case, a couple had their daughter taken away by the state just two days after she was born because both parents were blind. The state took the child away after a nurse reported that the mother was having trouble breastfeeding. Of course, this is a common problem for new mothers and was not related to blindness, but it took almost two months for the state to reunite the family.

This study reminds us that while Maryland's laws and courts strive to handle child custody cases fairly, it is important to recognize and prepare for the fact that prejudice does sometimes exist.

Source: Associated Press, "Disabled parents face bias, loss of kids: report," David Crary, Dec. 4, 2012

  • To familiarize yourself with child custody laws in Maryland, visit our Montgomery County family law firm's Custody and Visitation page.

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