What role does parent disability play in Maryland child custody decisions?

As with all child custody decisions, much (if not all) depends upon the trial judge deciding the case.

But since 2016, Family Law Article §9-107 provides a framework for judges deciding child custody cases involving parent disability.

This follows the Commission on Child Custody Decision Making’s conclusion that “Maryland law can better ensure that child custody determinations involving parents with mental health issues or sensory or physical disabilities are handled in a fair and even manner based on actual evidence and not presumed limitations.”

§9-107 defines “disability” as: “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities; a record of having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities; or, being regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities.”

§9-107 creates a shifting burden of proof: first for a parent alleging that the disability affects the best interest of the child to prove this, and if burden met, then for the other parent to prove that “supportive parenting services” would prevent a finding that the disability affects the child’s best interests.

“Supportive parenting services” are defined as: “services that may assist an individual with a disability in the effective use of techniques and methods to enable the individual to discharge the individual’s responsibilities to a child as successfully as an individual who does not have a disability, including nonvisual techniques for individuals who are blind. In short, services that assist the disabled individual to parent as successfully as a person who is not disabled.”

Finally, if a court finds that a disability affects the child’s best interests and denies or limits custody or visitation, the court must specifically state in writing the basis and reason that supportive parenting services are not a reasonable accommodation and make a record that the disability affects the best interest of the child.

§9-107 does not apply to parents whose children are removed from their custody by Child Protective Services (such as recently in the news regarding the Oregon couple allegedly due to their low IQs).

Some resources for parents needing accommodations to access Maryland Courts:

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