Bill would prevent child custody being denied due to disability

Members of the Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 2 on a bill that would protect the custodial rights of people with disabilities.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist41' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Tom Briese'>Sen. Tom Briese</a>
Sen. Tom Briese

LB845, introduced by Albion Sen. Tom Briese, would prohibit the denial or restriction of parental custody based solely on a parent’s disability in cases when custody is determined to be otherwise in the best interests of the child.

Briese said the bill recognizes that individuals with disabilities face societal biases relating to their ability to parent children.

“This is designed to give the children of parents with a disability the best chance at having a happy, loving life with their parents,” he said.

If it is alleged that a person’s disability could have a detrimental impact on a child, the person raising the allegation would be required to provide clear and convincing evidence. If the burden of proof is met, the parent with a disability would have the opportunity to demonstrate how supportive services could help them overcome any concerns raised.

The court could require that supportive parenting services be put in place and review the need for the continuation of such services as reasonable.

If a court determines that a parent’s custodial rights should be denied or restricted, it would be required to explain its findings and why supportive parenting services would not alleviate concerns about the parent’s parenting.

Representing the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, Amy Buresh spoke in support of the bill. She said blindness does not define a person or their future, which for many includes becoming a parent.

The parenting abilities of people with disabilities have been unfairly questioned and used against them in child disputes in some divorces, Buresh said.

“We know that blind people are fully capable and have been successfully raising their children for generations,” she said. “How would you feel if, just on the basis of a characteristic like the color of your hair, someone said you’re unable to parent?”

Jamie Richey, a parent with a disability, also supported LB845. Despite questions about her ability to parent, she said, her children have developed into independent, empathetic young people.

“Our blindness has not held our children back from living the lives they want,” Richey said. “This would ensure that parents with disabilities can raise their children without being afraid of having them taken away.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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