Disabled Parents' Rights in Custody Battles

By Rob Jennings J.D.

Child custody can become one of the most hotly contested issues in a couple's breakup. While the court's job in a child custody battle is rarely an easy one, a parent's disability can make it even more difficult. Although governments generally can't discriminate on the grounds of disability, the physical and mental capacities of both parents are highly relevant to a child's safety and well-being, and therefore a disability can play a part in a court's decision.

Child Custody in General

While child custody law varies among states, judges in all states now decide these cases under some version of the "best interests of the child" standard. Under this model, courts inquire into every aspect of a parent's life to arrive at a decision on what legal and physical custody arrangement will be best for the child. Depending on the criteria laid out by state law, your judge may, for example, examine your work hours, your parenting history, your criminal record and your behavior throughout the child's life. Because physical and mental capabilities may affect your ability to care for the child, your disability can figure importantly in the case. In child custody inquiries, the rights of the parents take a back seat to reaching an arrangement best calculated to keep the child happy, healthy and safe.

Physical Disability

Your physical disability may become relevant if it affects your ability to parent your child. For example, while you may be perfectly capable of caring for yourself, some physical impairments may affect your ability to pick up, carry or otherwise handle a small child. A parent who is bedridden may not be able to supervise the child adequately. Some medical conditions may--on a permanent or temporary basis--require you to take medication that affects your consciousness. While none of this means you're a bad or unfit parent, it may affect the child's well-being while under your care--and this will interest your judge.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Mental Disorders

Mental disorders can be more difficult to prove than physical disabilities, but they are no less important to deciding physical and legal custody. A parent who suffers periodic breaks from reality or manic episodes, for example, may create a dangerous or emotionally unhealthy environment for a child. Parents with cognitive impairments may find themselves poorly equipped to respond to a child's changing needs and to eliminate potential dangers. These same disorders may make it impossible or counterproductive for the parent to exercise appropriate decision-making.

Disabled Parents' Rights

Even if a court doesn't award you legal custody--that is, with decision-making authority with regard to your child--or physical custody, you still have rights. The judge can still award you whatever visitation your condition makes possible. Furthermore, you would typically receive frequent telephone contact, the right to attend school functions, and access to your child's school and medical records. Even if your condition makes it hard for you to win custody of your child, you can still typically play a major and positive role in his life, regardless of your disability.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Father's Child Custody Rights When the Child's Mother Is Mentally Ill


Related articles

Child Custody & Loss of Parental Rights From Drug Abuse

When a parent struggles with drug addiction, his parental rights may be affected. In some cases, child protection agencies may remove a child from a parent’s care if that parent abuses drugs. Likewise, during a divorce, a court may deny a parent custody if he has untreated drug abuse or addiction issues or terminate his parental rights entirely if he does not address his drug abuse problems. Therefore, treating the underlying illness is often key to protecting custody and parental rights.

Tips for Winning a Child Custody Battle

When making a child custody determination, most jurisdictions make a decision based on the best interests of the child. Although the exact meaning of a child’s best interests varies from state to state, in many cases, the court will favor parents who actively involve themselves in their children’s lives. Additionally, courts may look positively on parents who help their children maintain a positive relationship with the other parent.

How Does Job Stability Affect Custody?

When parents divorce, courts can be charged with the unenviable job of deciding which parent their children are better off living with. You and your spouse can avoid putting this delicate issue in the hands of a judge by negotiating your own custody terms. Otherwise, the judge will base a decision on a legal standard called the best interests of the child. Employment in itself isn't generally a best interests factor, but your job might still influence a judge.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Who Has the Advantage in a Custody Battle?

Custody disputes in a divorce really are a lot like battles, as you line up your arsenals of evidence and testimony, ...

What Determines Physical Custody in Maryland?

Understanding what physical custody is and why it is ordered by Maryland judges can help parents decide which type of ...

How to Become the Power of Attorney for a Disabled Elderly Parent

Only two persons or entities can grant you the right to act on your disabled parent’s behalf: your parent or the court. ...

List of Mother's Rights in a Divorce

Divorce can be a difficult process for anyone, but it can be even harder if you're a parent who has stayed home with or ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED