Proposed family court law will help parents with disabilities retain custody, visitation rights

Press Release

Sacramento, CA – According to Senator Rod Wright’s office, too often parents with disabilities face discrimination in custody or visitation matters. Wright’s proposed bill, SB 1188, now on Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk, adds a section to the California Family Code stating that a parent’s disability “may not form the basis for an order granting custody or visitation to another party.”

Parents with disabilities face discrimination Maria Santiago and her ex-husband shared 50-50 custody of their 12-year-old daughter until he claimed his ex-wife was too disabled to care for her. She said, “I have a physical disability but I have been an exemplary mother. It’s devastating for families to be wrenched apart by an ex-spouse seeking an unfair advantage in a divorce.” Santiago got back the 50-50 shared custody of her daughter only after a difficult court battle.

Many California parents with disabilities are unfairly forced to the margins of their children’s lives, because family court laws allow disability to be used as a way to deny custody or visitation. This inequity is based on unfounded fears that disability somehow negates parenting capacity and skills, even when the mother or father with a disability successfully parented the children for many years prior to a separation or divorce.

Why the Bill is important

Glenn Sacks, executive director of Fathers and Families, explained why the new legislation is necessary: “It is estimated that nationally, one in six parents has a disability. They’re poorer on average than nondisabled parents, so often cannot fight long, expensive court battles.”

Margaret Johnson, an attorney who is the advocacy director for Disability Rights California and a parent with a disability, said: “Parenting is a fundamental right and this bill will help to ensure that parents with disabilities do not face discrimination. By increasing the burden of proof on the parent who raises disability as an issue, rights of disabled parents are protected and unnecessary litigation is avoided.”

Ella Callow, an attorney and director of legal programs for the National Center for Parents with Disabilities and their Families, pointed out, “California’s laws relating to parents with disabilities are very unfair.”

Timothy Sayre, a San Diego father, hopes that SB 1188 will help parents like him. His ex-wife moved his three children out-of-state in 2002 but, as part of a visitation agreement, they spent summers with him. Sayre became disabled two years ago, and spent much of this spring battling to maintain his summer parenting time. He concluded, “I use a wheelchair but I can still parent… Do my children love and need me less because I use a wheelchair?”

Bill Sponsors

SB 1188 is sponsored by Disability Rights California, Fathers and
Families, and the American Retirees Association. See the bill at

Contact: Glenn Sacks
Executive Director
Fathers and Families
Phone: 818-349-2155

Margaret Johnson
Advocacy Director
Disability Rights California
Phone: 916-497-0331