What Effect Does a Parent’s Disability Have on Child Custody?
A parent’s disability can affect numerous aspects of a divorce, including distribution of property, alimony, child support, and child custody. Historically, parents with disabilities have faced a range of challenges gaining or retaining custody of their children. Courts make decisions based on the best interests of the child, so when a parent is disabled, the court must weigh the benefits versus the risks to the child of living with that parent. The court will determine whether the parent’s disability diminishes his or her ability to perform the duties of a custodial parent by looking at the nature and the severity of the disability.
If the disability presents a physical limitation, the court must ask whether the parent can still manage a household. For example, a parent with a prosthetic leg may be fully independent, whereas a parent who is confined to a wheelchair may need assistance with self-care. The greater the parent’s physical limitations, the more caregiving responsibilities the child might have to assume. The court must look at the role a child would have to play in the household with the disabled parent to discern whether the burden is too great for the child’s age and maturity. The court must also consider whether the parent’s physical limitations would prevent adequate supervision of the child. A parent who takes affirmative steps, such as modifying the home to accommodate the disability, has a better chance of satisfying the court that there will be little difference to the child’s quality of life there than with the other parent.
A psychological or psychiatric disability may result from any number of mental conditions that affect a person’s emotions, cognition and behavior. Potentially disabling conditions include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. All of these conditions are potentially detrimental, if not devastating, to a person’s ability to maintain healthy relationships, gainful employment, personal care and a household. The court must look at the parent’s health history to discern whether there is a record of effective management of this type of disability. The court will not award custody to a parent when there is a foreseeable risk of the child being neglected or abused.
Finally, the court must consider the question of comorbidity, or whether a parent’s physical disability causes psychological problems such as depression or anxiety, which might also be detrimental to the child.
When a parent is disabled, the parenting plan should be carefully crafted to fit the specific circumstances. Certainly, you know your situation much better than a judge who only reads the briefs and listens to lawyers’ arguments. That’s why it is generally better to use a cooperative process, such as divorce mediation, to reach a compromise that protects both parents’ rights and promotes the best interests of your children.
For more information on how divorce mediation can work for you, call Solutions Divorce Mediation, Inc. at 1.631.683.8172 or contact our Long Island office online.