Considerations for Special Needs Child Custody Arrangements

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Child custody cases are never easy, but they can be especially challenging when special needs children are involved. A host of unique issues play a role in determining which parent is most fit to take care of the child and, therefore, what the parenting arrangement should look like. No matter which side of a custody dispute you find yourself on, you will need skilled legal counsel to present the best possible case. Greenville, SC, attorney Angela Frazier is here to assist. Find out how we represent parents seeking custody of children with disabilities.

Overview of Custody Laws

The facts of every child custody case vary, but they all have one thing in common: the best interests of the child standard. This means that regardless of what the parents might want, the judge has a duty to decide what is best for the child. It is entirely reasonable for one parent to want as much time as possible with the child. Nonetheless, this arrangement may not be best for the child due to any number of reasons. For instance, the parent wanting more time is simply not in a position to address the child’s medical condition.

Special needs custody cases, like any other custody matter, are therefore highly fact-specific. In working with your attorney, you will want to provide as much detail as possible about your child’s condition and explain how and why you are the most well-equipped parent to handle it. Without this evidence, the judge could decide to award custody or more parenting time to the other parent.

Unique Considerations for Special Needs Children

Every child’s individual needs must be taken into account when a judge decides custody matters. However, when handling custody for children with disabilities, courts must deal with considerations such as:

  • Medical and therapeutic needs: A special needs child will generally have more frequent and intensive medical treatments. Ongoing therapy and counseling are also likely, depending on the individual child.
  • Emotional and psychological needs: Certain children have emotional and psychological conditions that require more attention. The court will determine which parent can best deal with these.
  • Special education plans and accommodations: Similarly, these children have educational needs that go above and beyond the typical curriculum. A parent must be prepared to accommodate the child’s academic progress, including at home.
  • Guardianship and long-term care: Establishing guardianship over the child may be necessary if he or she will not be able to care for themselves after reaching age 18. Although a guardianship proceeding is different from custody, it should be considered before the child becomes an adult.

Key Factors in Custody Decisions

When deciding a specific custody and visitation arrangement for the parents, a judge will examine a number of different criteria. This step is necessary to determine what is in the child’s best interests. Factors include:

  • Meeting the child’s physical and medical needs: What are the child’s current needs and what are they likely to be in the future? They will require one parent to bear the financial burden, have the time to address them, and be diligent in doing so.
  • Decision-making for the child: The parents should, to the extent possible, determine how they will share decision-making authority (also known as legal custody). Special needs children usually require more frequent and serious decisions about health, education, and more.
  • Daily and overnight care: Special needs children often need more intensive care both daily and overnight. A parent’s work schedule may not allow him or her to consistently provide this care, and this fact will be relevant to the court’s decision.
  • Special training: If one parent has special medical or educational training that may be of benefit to the child, a judge will need to know. This factor is especially pertinent because the court wants to understand the parents’ capacity to meet the child’s needs.
  • The capabilities of the visiting parent: Typically one parent is awarded primary custody while the other is given visitation. However, the visiting parent must convince the judge that he or she can care for the child during their visitation time.
  • Stability and consistency in the child’s life: Although every child deserves to have a relatively stable and consistent upbringing, this is more pressing for children with special needs. The court might not award more parenting time to a mother or father who cannot be relied upon to deliver the attention the child requires.
  • The impact on child support: Special needs child custody considerations must include the costs that will be incurred by both parents in raising the child. For example, the child will likely require more specialized academic tutoring.
  • Eligibility for other benefits: The child may be eligible for Social Security and other forms of public assistance, depending on his or her age. These benefits will be evaluated along with child support.

Legal Processes and Custody Arrangements

When parents separate, they have the option to try to negotiate and settle the matter of child custody between them. This is often handled in mediation along with other matters like child support and divorce. Mediation is mandatory in most custody cases and allows a third-party neutral to facilitate discussions between the parents. Even if the parents settle custody in mediation, however, the judge must still review the agreement to ensure it is in the child’s best interests.

If the parents are unable to reach an agreement, then a trial will be necessary. Special needs custody cases often require the input of expert witnesses like doctors and therapists who explain a child’s specific considerations. These experts can help the judge decide which parent should be entrusted with meeting the child’s best interests. This information can also help shape the details of visitation.

Contact Our Office for Your Special Needs Child Custody Matter

We understand the unique issues that are presented by special needs custody cases. That’s why we provide comprehensive legal services to parents who want to do what is best for their children. We can represent you during mediation and handle all aspects of custody litigation, along with related matters like child support and guardianship proceedings. Trust the experience and dedication of Elliott Frazier — Family, Personal Injury, & Car Accident Attorneys, LLC. Call today to get started.

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