Determining Custody When Your Child Has Special Needs

A family law case involving a child with special needs focuses primarily on his or her proven needs and achieving what is in the child’s best interests. Special considerations have to be made when considering what is in the best interests of the child.

The Level of Involvement of a Parent

Children with mental or physical disabilities may require some form of care or equipment every day to live an ordinary life. In such situations, the ability to meet those needs is critical to determining the parent who will be awarded custody. A parent seeking primary or joint custody will have to be familiar with caring for the condition of the child. He or she should be ready to show the court that he or she can meet the child’s additional needs.

A parent who rarely participates in the day-to-day responsibilities of raising the child is less likely to be awarded a prominent role in making decisions for the child. Co-parents may share rights and duties in most regards, but some decisions concerning the best interest of the child in the future may likely become exclusively vested in the parent most involved in the child’s everyday life.

Creating a Parenting Plan

Children with special needs may have severe difficulties with managing their emotions. The period after a family law case tends to be an emotional time for children. Parents of children with disabilities should consider when creating a parenting plan and aim for consistency and flexibility.

A plan should be consistent with regard to how much the child sees each parent but flexible in relation to letting the child spend more time with a particular parent in hard times during the year. For instance, if a child with special needs has a difficult time parting from a parent on a certain weekend, the co-parents can agree to let the child spend an additional night with that parent. That can make a significant difference to the child and help build trust during the period after the family law case.

Custody of children with disabilities requires a practical look at the existing needs of the children and addressing them appropriately. Parents working with a professional such as a child custody attorney is essential to ensuring the rights of all children are protected in a Reno divorce.

Kimberly Surratt served for eight years on the executive council and has been the vice chair and then chair of the State Bar of Nevada Family Law Section. In addition, she is the President-Elect of the Nevada Justice Association and the chair of the domestic lobbying committee. She has lobbied with the Nevada Justice Association since 2004.

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