When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have amended Florida alimony and timesharing laws, his stated objection was that the new law would have put “the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest.” State laws throughout the nation hold that the preeminent consideration in a timesharing order must be the best interests of the child. For disabled parents, proving that an order giving them parental responsibility is in the child’s best interest can be extremely challenging.
However, “best interest of the child” is a conclusion the court draws only after examining numerous factors. So, a parent’s disability is not an automatic bar to custody. The court must look at the nature and extent of the disability, the degree to which the parent manages the disability, and the impact of the disability on the child’s health and welfare. Questions the court might ask include:
- Does the parent’s disability present any foreseeable risks to the child?
- To what degree is the parent capable of self-care and living independently?
- To what degree is the parent capable of gainful employment?
- Does the disability limit the parent’s energy?
- Does the disability adversely affect the parent’s mood, clarity of thought, or patience with the child?
- To what extent would the child have to take on caregiving responsibility for the parent?
- To what extent would the child have to take on household responsibilities for the parent?
- Is the child physically capable and emotionally mature enough to assume these added responsibilities?
- Would added responsibility interfere with the child’s education and normal social development?
A court should not deny shared parental responsibility to a disabled parent simply because the other parent is more physically capable. If the disabled parent can manage custodial responsibilities, it may very well be in the child’s best interest to live part-time with that parent for the sake of intangible benefits, such as affection, guidance, emotional comfort.