DOJ investigating Connecticut family courts

glasses sitting on a divorce agreement
Parents with disabilities face extra family court hurdles

The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has opened an investigation into whether Connecticut family courts are violating the due process rights of parents with disabilities in divorce proceedings. According to an extensive feature in Communities Digital News, released March 11, the DOJ confirmed it began the investigation in January. The news comes in response to complaints from parents stating that courts routinely force them to undergo expensive, and often unnecessary, mental health evaluations and treatment plans, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The costs courts routinely impose on families with special needs are not only outrageous, but the services are often questionable, unbeneficial, or just outright harmful the litigants ordered to pay for them,” Peter Szymonek, the father of a child with autism and an administrator for UnitedHealthcare, told Communities Digital News.

In recent years, multiple studies have documented the additional burdens imposed by courts on parents with disabilities in custody disputes.

In October 2012, the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency, released an extensive policy study finding numerous ADA violations in state family courts. The NCD found that parents with disabilities were dramatically more likely to lose their children than parents without disabilities in custody cases. Parents with psychiatric disabilities lose custody in nearly 80 percent of such cases.

In two-thirds of states, courts have the express authority to find people unfit to remain as parents solely on the basis of their disabilities, regardless of whether there is a nexus between the parent’s disability and his or her parenting abilities.

Earlier this year, more than 80 parents testified before the Connecticut legislature regarding the unique challenges they face during divorce proceedings.

“The family courts mislabeled my family ‘high conflict’ then took everything from us, but fighting for my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act took the rest,” testified Henry Martocchio, a father with disabilities of a son with autism whose family court case has been open since 2006, according to Communities Digital News. “In a nut shell, you have no ADA rights in the Connecticut because judges will not let the ADA rights into court even to argue ADA rights.”

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