Can Parents Lose Child Custody Due to Low IQ?

When making child custody determinations, courts and child service agencies will make decisions in the child's best interests, and those interests can be examined through a variety of factors, from safety and stability to continuity of family, friend, and school relationships. Absent clear evidence of abuse or absenteeism, rarely is one circumstance solely determinative of custody.

But one Oregon couple is claiming that a single factor, their IQ, has been used to deny them custody of their two young children, even causing Department of Human Services to step in and take the couple's second child before he could even leave the hospital.

Borderline Case

The average IQ is somewhere between 90 and 110. Amy Fabbrini's IQ is about 72, described as "extremely low to borderline range of intelligence." Her boyfriend Eric Ziegler's is about 66, putting him in the "mild range of intellectual disability." According to court documents filed in their custody battle for their two sons, the state claims both parents had "limited cognitive abilities that interfere with (their) ability to safely parent the child."

DHS said it does not comment on specific cases, but told Oregon's KTVZ that IQ alone cannot be the only factor for removing children from a home. Fabbrini and Ziegler, however, are not convinced. "They're thinking that because we have this disability, we can't safely parent our children," Fabbrini told the station. "We personally think that IQ shouldn't have anything to do with it. As long as you have the abilities of being able to support your child, being able to care for your child."

Better Custody?

Currently, the two children — four-year-old Christopher and five-month-old Hunter — are placed in foster care awaiting adoption. But the parents have plenty of advocates for their custody battle, from Fabbrini's aunt and a volunteer social worker who supervised visits with the boys to a state senator who's met with the couple several times. The couple also says they've taken classes on parenting, first aid, CPR, and nutrition.

"We've just done everything and more than what they've asked us to," Fabbrini said. "It doesn't seem like it's good enough for them," Ziegler added. "They're saying, 'Who would parent Christopher better, the foster parents or the parents?' is basically what they're going on." Unfortunately, that somewhat describes how the "best interests" test can work. While not always as comparative as Ziegler describes, making custody decisions in a child's best interest can appear unaccommodating to parents with a disability.

Fabbrini and Ziegler continue to fight for custody of Christopher and Hunter. If you're facing a custody battle, contact an experienced child custody attorney today.

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