Know Your Rights as a Parent with Disabilities

We all have rights, but as a parent with disabilities, sometimes those rights are a little fuzzy. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we are judged and stereotyped for characteristics that are out of our control such as gender or ethnicity, and having a disability is no different. It can be difficult to sift through all the jumbled information, and sort fact from opinion. Check out the information below for answers to some of the most common questions you might have.

Adoption

The easy answer to this topic is that yes, you can and do have the right to adopt. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the right of parents with disabilities to adopt is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under this act, parents are protected from unlawful discrimination by child welfare programs such as adoption agencies. The ultimate goal of child welfare services is to protect all children from abuse and neglect, and this goal can be achieved by making sure parents with disabilities have equal and fair access to parenting opportunities, increasing the chance for children to be placed in safe, loving homes. Unfortunately, parents with disabilities often face barriers to adoption due to stereotypes regarding their abilities.

It is important for you to know about two crucial principles: individualized treatment and full and equal opportunity. Parents with disabilities must be treated on a case-by-case basis, and given the same individual assessment as those without disabilities to determine their ability to safely parent. It is also your right to have equal opportunities to parent, and be given the appropriate accommodations to do so. While you may be denied the right to adopt, it must be based upon objective facts and an individualized assessment, not your disability. If you feel you were wrongly denied, you are encouraged to contact the ADA and file a complaint.

Custodial Rights

Over 4.1 million people in the U.S. are parents with disabilities to children younger than 18. However, there is still the unprecedented belief that parents with physical or intellectual disabilities can’t adequately care for and raise children, losing custody at a rate of 80 percent. This statistic is high considering the fact that the ADA makes such discrimination illegal, and yet parents with disabilities continue to have to fight to both retain and gain custody of their children.

Every state has their own set of laws, but almost all of them allow disability to be a deciding factor in custody issues. According to the American Bar Association, “The fundamental right to parent without interference is protected by the U.S. Constitution and balanced by the judicially recognized power of the state to interfere to protect the wellbeing of its children.” While the law sounds good on paper, parents are still struggling. Deaf and blind parents report high instances of child removal and loss of parental rights. In addition, parents with disabilities are more likely to lose custody after a divorce. Unless a disability is shown to be detrimental to a child, there is no reason for loss of rights, and yet it continues to happen.

As a parent, it is important that you work closely with an attorney to ensure you are given the rights you lawfully deserve. Here’s how the two of you can work together:

  • Connect with disability services that provide valuable assistance with housing, transportation, employment, personal assistance, etc.
  • Ensure your parent assessment is completed by an individual who is experienced and knowledgeable of disabilities
  • File a claim under the ADA, and consider appealing and/or filing an ADA complaint in federal court

Visitation

First and foremost, you need to be aware of your state’s laws regarding visitation rights. If you have been denied child custody, it is likely that you were granted some form of visitation, and most courts encourage the involvement of both parents. It is important that you understand the reason for your custody denial by requesting a copy of the judge’s written ruling. It will also outline your visitation rights, which could be any of the following, as well as a combination: weekends/alternating weekends, alternating weeks/week nights, holidays, and summer vacation. You may also be granted supervised visitation, or virtual visitation in which you communicate via Skype, FaceTime, or other video services.

Unfortunately, as is the common theme, parents with disabilities often face biases that affect visitation decisions due to the discretion courts are given in determining the best interest of the child. Parents are often faced with the expensive task of proving their ability to care for their child, even though they have been successfully doing so up to this point. While some state laws specifically address and set up protection for parents with disabilities, a majority have not, leaving parents to continue to face discrimination.

Contact your local legislation and push for a change. File a complaint with the ADA. Don’t give up the fight!