Tag: Custody & Circumcision

Can Low Intelligence Cost You Custody?

Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler are fighting to prove to the state of Oregon that they can raise their children. Oregon removed their boys, saying the parents are too mentally limited to parent. Can your intelligence be a factor in determining child custody?

Fabbrini, 31, and Ziegler, 38, lost custody of their older son, Christopher, shortly after he was born. Five months ago, the state took their second child, newborn Hunter, directly from the hospital. Both are now in foster care.

“I love kids, I was raised around kids, my mom was a preschool teacher for 20-plus years, and so I’ve always been around kids,” Fabbrini said. “That’s my passion. I love to do things with kids, and that’s what I want to do in the future, something that has to do with kids.”

No abuse or neglect has been found, but each parent has a degree of limited cognitive abilities. Rather than build a network of support around them, the state child welfare agency has moved to terminate the couple’s parental rights and make the boys available for adoption.

The case lays bare fundamental questions about what makes a good parent and who, ultimately, gets to decide when someone’s not good enough. And it strikes at the heart of the stark choices child welfare workers face daily: should a child be removed or is there some middle ground?

Florida Child Custody

The Oregon case involves child protective services operating through dependency court. A child is generally found to be dependent if the child is found to be abandoned, abused, or neglected by the child’s parent or parents or legal custodians.

In Florida family court cases, as opposed to dependency court cases, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

I’ve written about child custody cases before. Generally, when parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court. At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child.

Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of 20 statutory factors, and one equitable catch-all factor, affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

Although the parent’s intelligence or IQ score is not specifically mentioned in our custody statute, the statute requires courts to consider the mental and physical health of the parents.

The Oregon Case

Back in Oregon, the parents are struggling against a system that feels impersonal, unyielding and inscrutable.

“They are saying they are intellectually incapable without any guidelines to go by,” said Sherrene Hagenbach, a former volunteer with the state agency who oversaw visits with the couple and Christopher from last June through August.

According to documents provided by the couple, psychological evaluations tested Fabbrini’s IQ at about 72, placing her in the “extremely low to borderline range of intelligence,” and Ziegler’s about 66, placing him in the mild range of intellectual disability.” The average IQ is between 90 and 110.

“I have a learning disability, but it’s very, very mild,” Ziegler said. He understands that he learns more slowly than some, but says “everybody learns at their pace.”

Neither currently works, but they have steady housing: a three-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot home owned by Ziegler’s parents, who live out of state. Ziegler has a driver’s license. Both have standard high school diplomas.

Across the country, a national study estimates that somewhere between 40 percent and 80 percent of parents with intellectual disabilities lose their parental rights.

The Oregon Live article is here.


Circumcision & Custody: An Update

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Tuesday, May 26, 2015.

Let’s cut to the meat of the coconut: what does a court do when parents disagree in a custody dispute over circumcising their child? Florida state and federal courts have recently been trying to answer that question.

Last year’s Palm Beach County case made international news, and I wrote about it then. The parents entered into a written agreement to circumcise their baby. Their agreement was later incorporated into a court order.

The father, Nebus, still wants the circumcision performed, but the mother, Hironimus, changed her mind. Now she wants to modify the agreement. Hironimus initially told the Father she didn’t want the child exposed to anesthesia.

After filing her initial complaint though, the mother obtained the support of Intactivists – a group which opposes circumcision – and the Mother’s complaint has grown into a general, anti-circumcision campaign.

The trial judge ordered the enforcement of the parties’ agreement, and the Mother appealed. After losing the appeal, the Mother filed a federal case in the district court, which the Mother later dismissed.

But, with her legal options dwindling, the Mother made a huge error: she stole the child, ignored a court order requiring her to appear in court, and refused to give her consent for the surgery to be performed.

An arrest warrant was issued, but she wasn’t located until May 14 at a Broward County domestic violence shelter where she was hiding with her son. She was put in jail for contempt of court.

Brought before the judge last week, Hironimus again declined to sign a consent form for the surgery, and she was advised she would remain jailed indefinitely.

After the hearing ended, she reconsidered, and signed the consent form. Though the signature solved a contempt charge against her, she still faces a criminal charge of interference with child custody.

The executive director of Intact America, which advocates against circumcision, said the images of a distraught mother signing the form to allow the surgery show how she was “bullied” into it and that she doesn’t truly give her consent.

It is important to note that the judge did not order the circumcision. Instead, the judge enforced the parents’ written agreement. The court enforced it by designating the Father to make the ultimate decision for the circumcision.

This is an important distinction, because if both parents decided not to circumcise their child, the court would not compel it. The court is merely upholding a run-of-the-mill settlement agreement after one parent reneges.

More information can be found in the Sun Sentinel article.

Circumcision and Custody

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Thursday, July 3, 2014.

Let’s cut to the chase here: some people want their child circumcised, others don’t. In child custody cases, what happens when parents disagree? A Florida court is considering that issue.

3000-year old Egyptian hieroglyph

A recent case was started in Palm Beach County, and involves a 3-year old. A written agreement between the parents requires his circumcision. The father still wants this done, but the mother’s enthusiasm has gone flaccid, and she wants to chop up the agreement.

The Mother, Heather Hironimus, agreed with the Father, Dennis Nebus, to circumcise their child. Now Hironimus has told Nebus she doesn’t want their child exposed to general anesthesia, “for fear of death”! The Mother’s attorney, Sinatra, argued the best interest of the child trumps the agreement.* The mother lost.

*These are their real names.

At issue is a parenting agreement Nebus and Hironimus signed and filed in court, which stipulates that their son would be circumcised under arrangements made by the father. The parents never married.

Her complaint is no longer limited to the risks of anesthesia, now the Mother is seeking the support of Intactivists, a group which opposes circumcision. She is fundraising for help with her legal fees:

I am pleading with fellow intactavists, parents and all others to help me save my son, his foreskin, his rights . . . from allowing the ‘system’ to make these decisions. Please help me help my son!!

The case came to a head in Palm Beach, after a judge ruled the circumcision could proceed. The judge required the Mother to facilitate the circumcision and that she “not in any way lead [the child] to believe that she is or was opposed to his being circumcised, whether or not she accompanies [the child] to the procedure.”

The Mother appealed to the Fourth District. The appellate court issued a stay of the trial court order. Now the circumcision must wait.

While this is a novel case in Florida, the Oregon Supreme Court handled something similar. In Oregon, the Supreme Court concluded that decisions to have a circumcision are unfettered by a noncustodial parent’s concerns or beliefs. However, by age 12, the child’s preference is necessary to the determination.

Florida has different family laws, we don’t have primary and secondary parents for instance. And, unless there is a provision for sole parental decision making or ultimate authority, the parents are going to need to agree. If the parents can’t agree, they have to come to court for a resolution. This is a case to keep an eye on.

More information on the Palm Beach circumcision case can be found here.