Patti Flynn is a disabled mother locked in a legal battle with her ex-boyfriend for custody of their five-year-old son. The parties currently share custody, but Flynn's ex-boyfriend is seeking full custody of the child. While this is an intense emotional fight, she has been through such struggles before.
A week before she was to be married, Flynn suffered a stroke and fell in the shower, leaving her unable to speak or move her right side. Unfortunately, that relationship deteriorated, but she endured a long road of rehabilitation and learned how to care for her toddler. She re-learned how to walk and talk despite her disability, even learning how to change diapers with one hand.
She eventually fell in love again and had another child. However, the parties eventually split up. Flynn still suffers from aphasia, a language disorder stemming from the stroke that makes it difficult to find the words she wants to communicate. She commonly uses short, halting bursts to express herself.
Flynn and her attorney believe that her ability to parent with her disability will be the central focus of the trial. However, the case will be decided on how the court applies "best interests of the child" standard. This guideline is based on several factors, including each parent's capacity to give love, guidance and affection, the child's ability to adjust to home, school and community, each parent's mental and physical health, among other factors.
Flynn's mother tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Flynn raised her oldest son with limited involvement from the boy's father, and that she is capable of getting both kids ready for school, doing laundry and cleaning up after them. Also, the Missouri Legislature passed a law barring the removal of a child from the household of a disabled parent, solely because of a disability, unless there is a direct threat to the child's well-being. But Kirsten Dunham, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Paraquad, a nonprofit for the disabled, believes that disabled parents commonly experience discrimination in the courts, and that many parents have had their children removed from their homes because of a disability.
Parents embroiled in custody disputes should contact an experienced family law attorney to learn about their rights and options.
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