Special Needs, Divorce, And Child Custody

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Raising kids is tough, even in the best of circumstances. Raising a child with special needs only increases the challenges of parenthood. Throw divorce into the mix and it becomes a whole other world. Parents face a variety of legal and practical concerns.

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Best Interests of Special Needs Children

You have specific things to consider in a divorce between parents of a special needs child. However, the biggest question remains the same as any other custody case: what’s in the best interests of the child? In this case, the “best interests” may look different than in others, but that’s ultimately what the court wants to determine. Everything else goes from there.

Standard child custody cases already have a great deal to contend with. Where will the child live; who pays child support, and how much; how often do you see the kids, and for how long; and much more. When a child has a disability or special needs, there’s even more to take into account. You must address the specific requirements of the child in question.

Ideally, both parents were equally involved in caring for the child. But that’s not always the case. Often, one parent or the other winds up as the primary caregiver. This may also factor into what the court views as the child’s best interests.

Custody cases are complex in most situations. When a child has special needs, they can become even messier. In a perfect world, the parents should work all of this out during the divorce process and the divorce settlement will reflect this.

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Visitation And Special Needs

In many cases, visitation for children with special needs takes a different form than in other situations.

For example, in children with autism, routine and structure are often cited as important factors. Stability and consistency can help keep them calm and comfortable. Shuffling the kids from one house to another on alternating weekends, or for midweek overnights, may throw their regular pattern into chaos. A more common visitation arrangement may not necessarily work in every situation. You may need to take steps to help maintain their schedule.

It’s also important to consider the mode of transport. How will the child get from one place to the other? Will the child travel via some form of transit or will the parents personally handle it? What if there is special medical equipment that also needs to make the trip? How close are the respective homes to necessary medical care? These are just a few of the many questions that need answers.

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Considering Special Needs

A child with special needs has exactly that, special needs. What this entails depends on the precise nature of the disability. This may involve regular medical care, specific medications, or particular dietary needs. Certain physical surroundings may trigger a child.

Whatever the special needs, both parents need to be equipped to deal with them. If you have a nonverbal child, it’s important to know how to communicate. If your child can’t be around crowds or lots of loud noise, it’s also vital to know not to take them to a Trail Blazers game.

As part of a divorce decree, the parenting plan should specifically include all of this. Whatever the daily care the child requires, the final orders must address those details. It’s important to the health and well-being of your children.

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Finances and Special Needs

Part of ensuring your child gets the care he or she needs will likely involve money, and there are also many financial angles to consider. Regular medical care and any specific equipment or medications cost money. In certain cases, special needs children may also be eligible for Supplemental Security Income or other federal benefits. Divorce may also change health insurance coverage and that’s key to think about.

It’s important to take steps to make sure care costs and treatments are covered and that benefits continue after divorce. If caring for the child is a full-time job for the primary parent, spousal support payments may reflect this. In certain cases, child support payments may continue past the age of 18, when they usually cut off.

Many of these issues depend a great deal on the specific child and the particular disability. No two divorces are ever the same, and neither are any two special needs children. What applies to one case may not apply to another.

Things often become complicated in a hurry and you have a lot to consider. In most cases, it’s likely in your best interests, and more importantly, the best interests of your child, to talk to an attorney. A lawyer with experience with special needs cases and children with disabilities may offer insight. They can help steer you in the right direction and make sure you and your ex continue to meet your child’s needs.

If you have questions about divorce or child custody, contact Goldberg Jones at our Portland office.

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