Custody Cases Involving A Child With Special Needs: What You Need To Know

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Working out a child custody arrangement can be hard on you, your co-parent, and your child. Taking into account your child’s unique needs while rearranging much of their life is an endeavor that can distress even the most attentive parent. When you are battling for custody of a child with special needs, the considerations for their new lifestyle increase tenfold.

As family lawyers with a particular interest in helping arrange custody cases that are beneficial to the children involved, we at Youngblood Law, PLLC are here to provide legal guidance to parents of children with special needs so that your child can adjust and thrive in their new lifestyle. Read on to find out about the particular considerations you will want to discuss with us when you book a free consultation.

Custody Cases Involving A Child With Special Needs: What You Need To Know

What Does It Mean For A Child To Have Special Needs?

Children with special needs are each unique. There is no single definition that encompasses the expansive variety of conditions and experiences that constitute the phrase ‘special needs.’ However, here are some common umbrella definitions broken down roughly by type so you can gain an understanding of some of the special considerations that are involved in custody cases:

  • Some children have physical differences that require special care. These children might have a limited range of mobility that necessitates an aid like a wheelchair. Sometimes children are missing or have limited use of limbs. In some cases, children have long-term illnesses or conditions. Consider, for example, how a child with epilepsy might need the help of a service animal that can sense an attack coming on, or how a child with diabetes will need assistance and instruction in managing their insulin.
  • Some children with special needs might have sensory differences that impact how they interact with the world. If a child is blind or deaf, their needs might be considered both physical and sensory, and they will likely need assistance from a parent who understands their particular needs. Some children have sensory processing disorder that makes them more sensitive to stimuli than average.
  • Some children have developmental differences that contribute to their unique needs. Children on the autism spectrum (ASD), for example, might require adherence to a particular routine or have nonverbal methods of interacting. ADHD is another developmental difference, and children with this condition might need extra attention or variation in stimuli in order to stay engaged.
  • Sometimes children have different emotional needs, particularly if they have been diagnosed with conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, ASD, or depression. Divorce and changes in child custody are always impactful emotionally for children, but children with special emotional needs will require particular support and consideration.
  • Finally, there are children who require care for their learning differences. Learning differences can encompass everything from dyslexia to specific cognitive impairments that might affect processing, speaking, memory, or concentration.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of special needs experiences. Some children are considered “higher functioning” than others, and special provisions need to be made in custody arrangements for children who will need support for all their lives. Some of those situations and needs are outlined below.

What Factors Determine Custody Cases Involving A Child With Special Needs?

In almost all cases, the court prioritizes a child’s access to both parents during a custody arrangement, as it is beneficial to both the child and the parents to have quality time together. Only in specific situations, such as when a parent has proven to be abusive, will a judge bar a parent from access to the child. When dealing with custody cases involving a special needs child, the particular needs of the child will help determine the amount of time with the child and responsibility each parent has, though the court will still endeavor to arrange a schedule that will allow each parent to be involved as much as possible in their child’s life.

The unique needs of each child will be taken into account, though here are a few of the evaluations a court and your lawyers will make when arranging child custody:

  • In order to thrive, some children need to stick to a highly structured schedule because the unfamiliar throws them off. In cases such as these, children will want to stay in the environment that is most familiar to them as change can be upsetting. You will also want to make provisions for a consistent living arrangement as going back and forth between homes can be disorienting.
  • Similarly, the home needs of children need to be taken into consideration. If a child uses a wheelchair, for example, their home will need to be properly equipped with ramps and other features that aid with accessibility. If one parent cannot provide these features, it is in the best interest of the child that they reside with the parent who can.
  • All children are a time commitment, but some children need more attention than others. If a child needs a higher level of attention, a parent’s work schedule might fall into extra consideration.
  • If a child has particular educational needs, they will want to reside in a school district that is best equipped to help them.
  • Similarly, if a child has established a therapeutic routine with a trusted professional, it would be advantageous for them to continue with this process. If a child has a need for a special program, they will want to be near where they can access that program, especially if it is particularly niche.
  • Some children have specific financial needs that one parent might not be able to meet sufficiently. For example, a child might require costly medical equipment or specialized therapy. In these cases, child support will help, but the immediate means of each parent should be taken into account.
  • Finally, if a child has any particularly special relationships that will be impacted by a custody arrangement, it’s important to take those into account. For example, if a child is especially close with a sibling that helps with their stability, a court will want to do what they can to preserve that relationship.

As each child is unique, there are further considerations depending on your circumstances and the particular needs of your child. However, these are the big picture considerations that will affect your custody arrangement.

Guardianships And Conservatorships

In an ideal scenario, parents of a special needs child will be granted joint custody and make mutually agreeable decisions regarding the care of the child. However, this ideal scenario will not always be possible, particularly if the divorce was tumultuous. If one parent is better situated to handle the needs of the child, as outlined above, they may ultimately be granted sole conservatorship status, which means that they will do the decision-making regarding the child.

If a child’s needs are particularly severe and they will not be able to support themselves after they reach the age of majority (18 in the United States), conservatorship status might continue into adulthood. In these situations, the court might decide that the adult child will be best served by being placed under an official guardian who has the expertise to make the right decisions on behalf of the child.

Child Support Past The Age Of Majority

The financial situations of parents paying child support are typically taken into account, but in the case of a child whose needs require outsized financial support, a parent might be ordered to pay beyond the usual standard. If a child was born with or acquired a disability prior to the age of 18 that entails the need for support for the rest of their life, the Texas Family Code provides for child support past the age of majority. In situations where the child will need lifelong care, parents’ financial resources will be evaluated and they could be ordered by the court to continue child support payments indefinitely.

It is possible that the resources for your child will need to be transferred to a trust in order to ensure that they are able to have access to resources throughout their lifetime, as well as to ensure that their assets will not interfere with the reception of any necessary government benefits, particularly if they have Medicaid.

Youngblood Law, PLLC Can Take Care Of All Your Family Law Needs

At Youngblood Law, PLLC, we have experience handling custody cases in which we help make informed decisions that will benefit the unique needs of your child. We prioritize methods that will cut the toxicity out of the process of arranging child custody, thereby reducing the stress on your entire family. Reach out to us today and schedule a free consultation so we can outline for you how we will take the initial steps in handling your child custody case.

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