Wednesday, December 30, 2009
A quadriplegic mother is fighting her ex-boyfriend in court to retain custody of their son. The ex-boyfriend claims she cannot be a competent mother because of her disability. It is a case that touches on important questions about the rights of the disabled.
Kaney O'Neill, 31, lost the use of her legs and much of the use of her arms 10 years ago when she fell from a balcony in Newport News, Va. Now, as she tries to raise her 5-month-old son, Aidan, she is locked in a court battle with her ex-boyfriend, David Trais, over custody rights.
That disability says little about ability to parent, said Tuleja, the disability advocate.
"Even if someone is helping a parent who has a disability, the parent can orchestrate so they remain central," she said, explaining that the child understands that the disabled parent is directing their upbringing. "It's the richest part of parenting…that psychological and emotional connection to the child."
While disability itself does not have much, if any, bearing on a parent's fitness, in O'Neill's case, other factors may be at work. O'Neill sustained her injuries when she was knocked off a balcony during Hurricane Floyd. The balcony was lower than regulations dictated, but she was found to be partially negligent, possibly owing to alcohol, according to the Virginia court ruling on her lawsuit against the housing company, meaning she could not collect damages from the housing company under Virginia law.
Experts say the incident itself does not bear on her ability to raise a child, or how a court will judge her.
"The fact that she was injured, perhaps doing something irresponsible, will weigh, but not greatly," said Caplan. "Courts can be relatively forgiving…if it's a single incident."
"She may have been in the past irresponsible in some way," said Allen. "Those kinds of things are way less extreme than things which parents are accused of every day which never lead to the loss of a child."
Read the full ABC News story here.