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Married Couple with Mental Disabilities Sue for Right to Live Together

July 24th, 2013

A Long Island married couple who are both developmentally disabled has found a group home where they can cohabit, but a lawsuit for their right to live together continues. The case may be the first to raise the question of whether denying mentally disabled people the right to cohabitation in a marriage violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Paul Forziano, 30, and Hava Samuels, 36, married in April of last year. The couple met seven years ago at a day program operated by the Maryhaven Center of Hope on Long Island. Forziano and Samuels both have mild to moderate mental disabilities.

The couple’s wedding had been delayed because they wanted to ensure that they could live together after they were married. Samuels lived at Maryhaven Center of Hope and Forziano lived at Independent Group Home Living, both on Long Island. Both group homes refused to allow the couple to live together. The couple’s parents, who supported the marriage, filed a federal lawsuit as the couple’s guardians against the group homes and the state of New York. The state was named as a defendant because it oversees the licensing of the nonprofit group homes and receives the Medicaid funding that pays for their services. The state Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities, also named in the suit, is responsible for the program that provides Medicaid waiver services.

Since the lawsuit was filed, another group home, East End Disabilities Associates, has offered to provide the couple with a one-bedroom apartment inside the home, where they can live together. Forziano and Samuels are planning to move into their new home sometime in July. The lawsuit, however, will continue. The two wish to establish their right to live together and obtain compensation for that right having been denied. When the couple expressed to their parents that they wished to be married, their parents found no legal barriers to people with intellectual disabilities marrying, but they found that the group homes where the two resided were not supportive of their desire to marry and would not provide housing where they could live together.

The lawsuit hinges on the ADA’s provision requiring public entities to make reasonable accommodations to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability. The state of New York licensed the couple to marry, and the right to live together as a couple is among the most basic rights associated with marriage. The plaintiffs argue that because they are a married couple and their intellectual disabilities require that they reside in a supervised housing situation, the nonprofit group homes, by virtue of accepting Medicaid funding, should be required to accommodate their wish to live together. The lawsuit also cites the Fair Housing Act and New York State’s Human Rights Law.

It is difficult to know how many people with mental disabilities are married, because such information is not collected in marriage license applications. However, it is known that other married couples with mental disabilities live together in New York State, including in group homes. If Samuels and Forziano’s lawsuit is successful, it may establish their right to do so.

For more information about disability planning, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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