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Family courts shouldn’t disregard the abilities of parents with a disability, bill supporters say

Everyone deserves their day in court.

But activists say people with a disability too often don’t get fair treatment in family law courts when decisions are made about their ability to adopt children, fight a child protection order, and get parenting time.

Through HF5049, Rep. Kim Hicks (DFL-Rochester) wants to prevent courts from using disability as a factor when making these decisions unless it’s proven that a parent’s disability would endanger the health or safety of the child and supportive services would not resolve the issue.

“This bill works to fix systematic, ableistic practices in child welfare, adoption, and child custody,” she said.

The House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee approved the bill, as amended, Tuesday and sent it to the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee.

Too often courts incorrectly assume a blind person cannot possibly raise a child safely, said Corbb O’Connor, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. “We have documented thousands of instances of parents with disabilities successfully raising children around the world, many of them right here in Minnesota.”

The key to success for many parents with a disability, he said, is having supportive services to help them overcome obstacles.

The bill would specify that courts could not deny an adoption, deem that a child of a person with a disability needs protective services, or deny parenting time solely because of a parent’s disability unless the court also determines that accommodations would be ineffective.

“We’ve seen the powerful impact that mentoring and hands-on demonstrations can have for parents with disabilities learning the ropes and having confidence in themselves and their abilities,” O’Connor said.

Hicks said her bill is also about changing the perceptions of both the public and the courts when it comes to their assumptions.

“People without disabilities maybe don’t know about those resources and so they just assume that we don’t have a community to take care of each other,” she said.

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