Lawyers Helping Families Sort Out Legal Matters

Special custody considerations for a child with special needs

When you argue for custody in front of the Texas family courts, the judge will always want to make a decision that is in the best interests of the children. For the average family, those best interests usually include getting to spend significant amounts of time with both parents.

Nearly equal custody splits are increasingly common, but they may not be the right solution for every family. If your family includes a child with special needs, you will need to carefully consider what will be best for your child as you proceed with divorce.

Once you know what you believe is best for your child, you need to convince either your spouse or the courts to make a determination that upholds those best interests as you move forward with your divorce.

Children with special needs typically require more support and stability

Divorce is hard on any child, but children with special needs may have unique struggles with understanding the changes happening to the family and how that will impact their lives. Moving to a new home or transferring back and forth between parental homes can be incredibly stressful for a child with special needs.

While birdnesting, the practice of sharing the marital home after divorce or letting the children stay in the home and rotating each parent's presence at the property, is less popular now than it was a few years ago, it is still a viable option for parents whose children have special needs. By letting the children stay in the home they know and are familiar with, you minimize the disruption to their daily life and routine.

Can both parents truly provide for a child with special needs?

With rare exceptions, most families don't plan to have a child with special needs. They assume they will have healthy, happy children. Your child with special needs may have been a surprise, but that doesn't mean you love them any less because of their medical condition.

It is common, especially with children whose special needs include medical fragility, for one parent to serve as the primary caregiver. You may have even had to end your career to stay home and take care of your child if they have a condition such as intractable epilepsy.

Although the courts do favor shared custody, it may not be possible or feasible for both parents to provide all of the support that the child needs or to purchase two sets of the medical equipment upon which the child depends. If one parent already has training and experience in meeting the needs of the child with special needs, the courts may choose to relegate the other parents to visitation in deference of the child's needs.

A permanent caregiver may require spousal support or alimony

The courts will consider issues such as the unique complexities presented by a child with special needs when determining how to split up your assets and whether to order spousal maintenance or alimony. The special needs your child has could also influence the amount of child support that the courts order.

If you or your spouse intend to stay home and care for the child, that could influence how the courts allocate your marital home and other assets in the divorce. That decision could also necessitate long-term or permanent alimony to ensure that the child and their parent will not become dependent on the state of Texas to meet their basic financial needs in the future.

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