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Disabled Parenting Discrimination in Family Courts

July 9, 2014 in due process, family court, family rights

I am a disabled parent who had five beautiful children. I was born at only 24 weeks gestation and had brain damage that caused cerebral palsy. I grew up enjoying a normal childhood in farming country, building dens, playing in hay stacks and having a free run of our village.

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of ...

A collection of pictograms. Three of them used by the United States National Park Service.

I married my childhood sweetheart at the age of 18, gave birth to a son. After five months, I took an evening job as a receptionist to support us as my husband went through university. A few years later and after giving birth to four more children and helping out in my husband’s electrical store, he dropped a bombshell, he didn’t want to be married anymore, he’d tied himself down too young by being with me. I thought at the time that was the worst day of my life but it was nothing compared to the custody nightmare that was about to follow. After obtaining a residency order in my favor, he locked me in our home and left with all our children, including my three week old newborn baby. I was absolutely frantic and called the police.

Police Discrimination

I showed them my court order but they informed me that as I had married the father of my children, all they were prepared to do was do a ‘safe and well’ check, despite the fact that my newborn was totally breastfed and dependent. After leaving, telling me rather curtly that ‘There’s more than one way to feed a baby’, I was forced to beg my ex-husband on the telephone for the return of our children. 24 hours later, he returned only my two year old and newborn, keeping my older children at an unknown location.

CPS Interrogation

From the moment the police had been called, CPS got involved and that was the start of a two year harassment campaign from them, most of it centred around my disability. They asserted incorrectly that I was not able to bath my babies because I had refused to answer what I viewed as discriminatory questioning about my parenting skills and I was told I had to consent to a social worker coming in to bath my children every day and if I didn’t, they’d be removed from me.

On one occasion they broke down my front door when I had gone out. People would turn up unannounced to ‘spot check’ me and they kept this up for a two year duration. I was court ordered to attend a parenting class but I refused to comply, saying that I had successfully cared for my children for years while my husband was working and didn’t need any classes. I asked why my able bodied husband was not asked to attend a class and I was told he didn’t need one as he didn’t have my disabilities.

On meeting me for the first time, the first words from the guardian ad litem’s mouth were “Oh goodness, how do you cope?” Not hello, or nice to meet you . I knew from that point that I was in for a rough ride.

Court Bias

When the case went to court, I discovered that the police had failed to honor my court order because ‘there were disability issues’. I was shocked and appalled that in the 21st century, people could still be deemed unfit to be a parent because they are disabled.

By the time all the interviews had been conducted, more than seven months had passed so when it finally went to court, the judge said the older children had been with their father for months and it would be cruel to move them so he awarded him custody – a delay that only happened because of the fact that I had to prove myself fit to parent and as a disabled woman I had higher standards to meet than your average able parent.

Fast forward a whole decade and my ex-husband was still pursuing me through the courts for custody. After being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 2010, my health deteriorated. I had to have major surgery. This was brought up in court and it was asserted I was not ‘fit’ enough to be a mother, despite having hired help. I was also accused of abusing prescription drugs because I had to take medications. It was inferred by the Guardian ad litem that my children may be acting as ‘carers’ for me, in spite of my assistant’s employment with me. Shockingly, the court allowed all these accusations to be levelled against me. I was informed I had to answer questions about my disability because my health was the reason my ability to parent was under scrutiny.

I was allowed to keep my two youngest children but I shouldn’t have had more than a decade of my life trying to defend my right to be a parent just because I was born disabled.

No Disabled Parents Rights

I found out that there is no law to protect the relationship between a disabled parent and their children. The American’s with Disabilities Act doesn’t have a section on parenting and two thirds of dependency statutes allow a court to determine that a parent is ‘unfit’ on the basis that they are disabled.

Disabled parents frequently struggle to retain custody and are the only group of people where it is legal to discriminate against them. Up to 80% of parents with an intellectual disability will have their children removed. For physical disabilities the rate is 40% or higher and for those with physical disabilities going through custody disputes, 13% will be treated unfairly on the basis of disability. Parents who have psychological disabilities such as bipolar disorder or anorexia will very often have their children removed if they come under the radar of the authorities. In addition – sometimes a disabled parent will be denied the right to any visitation because of court judgements that are stereotypical and the court assumption that children will be forced into ‘caring’ roles with their parent, a view that doesn’t support what researchers have found.

After my experiences I have launched an official complaint with the government and I hope to create amendments to disability discrimination laws so that child custody cannot be decided on the basis of disability. I also hope to outlaw interrogation about disability so that in the absence of any real child protection concerns, disabled parents shouldn’t have to ‘prove’ they can be parents.

Sources:

Kidjacked, accessed July 6, 2014, http://kidjacked.com/

Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S Department of Education, accessed July 6, 2014, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq9805.html

Parents with Learning Difficulties, Child Protection and the Courts, accessed July 6, 2014, http://disability-studies.leeds.ac.uk/files/library/Booth-parents-with-lea-diff.pdf

Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and their Children, National Council on Disability, accessed July 6, 2014, http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/Sep272012/

The Family Law System: Custody and Visitation, National Council on Disability, accessed July 6, 2014, http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/Sep272012/Ch7

Determining the Best Interests of the Child, Child Welfare Information Gateway, accessed July 6, 2014, https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/best_interest.pdf

Find the Best Anorexic Treatment Programs and Dual Diagnosis Rehabs, Bulimia.com, accessed July 6, 2014, http://www.bulimia.com/topics/anorexia/

When a Parent has an Eating Disorder, The New York Times, accessed July 6, 2014, http://consults.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/20/adult-children-of-eating-disordered-parents/

Big Medicine and the Family Courts

November 20, 2011 in family court, family rights, justice, Maryland, medication

If you are dealing with the medical community and the family courts, this book is a must read. Readers describe the book as interesting, tragic, funny, compelling, amazing, and more. If you think you have problems, please know that you are not alone.

The Good, The Bad, and The Crazy:
(No One’s Ever Called Me Boring)

The Book Big Medicine And Family Court Does NOT Want You Reading

The Good, the Bad, and the CRAZY: (No One's Ever Called Me Boring)The Good, The Bad, and The Crazy: No One’s Ever Called Me Boring (Duke, M.D. Literary Enterprises, L.L.C.) by Mary Ann Duke, M.D., is the true story of a modern-day Joan of Arc who survived being burned at the stake by the male-dominated medical and judicial systems, and now dares to tell the unrevealed truth.

Mary Ann Duke was the epitome of a success story. She graduated from medical school at age twenty-three and became a board-certified ophthalmologist by age thirty. Her private practice in the prestigious suburb of Potomac, Maryland had a patient list that read like a Who’s Who of the Washington Metropolitan Social Register. Dr. Duke was granted privileges at the renowned John Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute. Happily married, she lived in a gorgeous home with her husband and their three beautiful children.

That is, until the day she found her husband and best friend together and her perfect world exploded, sinking her into a pit of despair. This was the beginning of the end for Mary Ann Duke; the God-fearing, small town girl from upstate New York. She began drinking to ease her pain, and the alcohol, along with an untreated bipolar disorder, soon cost her everything…

The Good, The Bad, and The Crazy is packed with life lessons that come together in a mixture of spirit and guts, new-found wisdom and touching sorrow. This writer’s sharp wit and glorious sense of humor (especially when she describes being in jail with an alleged killer) makes her book a page-turner that is impossible to put down!

The Good, The Bad, and The Crazy not only chronicles the myriad challenges and prejudices a brilliant, young female doctor faces from both the medical and legal systems, but it also tells the very personal and moving story of her downward spiral into alcoholism; her private war with bipolar disorder; her fight for custody of her children, and the pain of incarceration. Yet the sheer determination and perseverance of this writer incites readers to cheer for her tenacious spirit that has proven no matter what the odds – she will never give up.

Dr. Mary Ann Duke’s electrifying book challenges the status quo and shamelessly avenges her honor. It is a story of social protest that will be read and revered for generations to come. The final pages of The Good, The Bad, and The Crazy are scanned medical and legal documents that prove the truth of her writing.

The Amazon description calls the book a blockbuster…

A blockbuster in the secret world of sexual discrimination. “The Good, The Bad, and THE CRAZY” is a riveting true story of a young woman trying to fulfill her childhood dreams of career and family, to be repeatedly gunned down by the medical and judicial systems. The author candidly writes of her joys and successes and also her divorce, despair into alcoholism, custody wars and even jail time, with guts and humor.

Dr. Mary Ann Duke’s perseverance is an inspiration to any one who has faced adversity or prejudice, and her amazing story is proven in a unique “Documentation” section.

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