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Bill attempted to end disability discrimination in child custody

Disabilities, whether mental or physical, are an everyday part of life for some individuals. For some the signs of a disability may require the use of special equipment, such as a wheelchair, while for others the disability may be inwards and treated with a pill. Either way, plenty of parents in Massachusetts continue on with their daily lives and parenting responsibilities without much difficulty. However, when it comes to divorce, these normal aspects of certain individual’s lives can have a serious impact on child custody.

Sadly, when it comes to child custody arrangements, discrimination against disabled parents is not entirely uncommon. Bill H1379 was recently proposed to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary to prohibit the practice of discriminating against disabled parents during family law court proceedings. A total of 15 legislators co-sponsored the bill, which was inspired by a report by the National Council on Disability.

Testimony on behalf of the bill included a mother who claimed that she was not granted custody of her kids due to the fact that she suffers from a psychiatric disability. Another disabled parent who requires the use of a wheelchair said there were multiple referrals made to the Department of Children and Families that were completely unfounded. The bill seeks to avoid future situations such as these by ensuring that judges are aware that denying custody of a child to a parent solely because they are disabled is normally not in the child’s best interest.

While it appears at this time that the bill will not be moving forward -- Massachusetts has an average wait time of six years before a bill finally becomes a law -- there is hope that, at some point in the future, discrimination against disabled parents will be prohibited by law. For all parents proceeding with a divorce, including those who are disabled, determining child custody through mutual agreement might be the preferable choice, although utilizing an impartial mediator can also help produce a favorable custody agreement. When these options are not a possibility, issues concerning custody may proceed to court, although doing so will typically give the judge the final decision.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Disability and Discrimination in Custody Battles", Paul Heroux, July 24, 2014

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