Developing a Custody Arrangement for Your Special Needs Child

Divorce and the changes it brings to the family and home life are hard on any child, but they can be especially difficult for children with special needs. Many special needs children are not able to cope well with certain changes, making child custody and visitation arrangements more complicated for parents.

Custody and visitation arrangements can vary a great deal but often involve joint legal custody by both parents with one parent having primary custody and the other receiving visitation. This may include overnight visits during the week or weekend or holiday or summer visits. While it is generally beneficial for a child to spend quality time with both parents, this can be more difficult for special needs children. For example, children with separation anxiety, behavioral or sensory issues, or autism may not benefit from overnight visitation. In the case of autistic children, any disruption to normal routine can negatively affect them, including their education and daily behavior. It is important for parents in this situation to agree how to minimize disruptions for the child’s sake.

To create a custody arrangement for a special needs child, parents should examine several issues:

  • Visitation schedules
  • Transitioning between the homes
  • Effects on education, health and medical care
  • Social and recreational opportunities
  • Effects on other siblings

Determining who has decision-making power over education and health care is essential to provide stability for children, particularly when they have special needs in these areas. Childcare is also an important factor to consider, especially when parents need to minimize disruptions to routine. When both parents share legal custody, it is important for parents to work out how they can resolve decision-making disagreements without disrupting the child.

Creating a workable custody arrangement can be difficult in any divorce, but parents with children who have special needs have unique issues to consider. A knowledgeable family law attorney has the skills and experience to guide you through these issues and help you protect your special needs child in a divorce.

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