Child Custody Disputes Involving a Child with Special Needs

A mother and her two small children sit on a bench in the woods

When determining any child custody arrangement, it is always important to assess the needs of the child and what plan will best suit their specific needs. This is particularly true in cases where the children involved have special needs. Our Florida Child Custody Attorneys are well versed in all child custody matters and will discuss with you, your child’s unique diagnosis, their day to day care, and all pertinent issues to their development.

In every case where the court is required to determine a timesharing plan, they must do so by evaluating what the best interest of the child is. Florida Statute 61.13 provides a great deal of factors for the court to consider, but the ones most relevant to a case involving a child with special needs are listed below.

“(b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.

(c) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.

(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.

(j) The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.

(k) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.

(o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.

(s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.”

Because a child with special needs, typically does need a significant amount of attention and care it is important to present evidence to the court, the type of care the child needs on a daily basis as well as which parent provides this care. Some parenting tasks for the child are evenly split, however, in many cases it is one parent who performs the heavy lifting, and is responsible for the doctor appointments, school meetings, therapy sessions, or necessary extracurriculars for the child to encourage their development. If this is true in your case, it will be imperative to bring proof of such particular involvement. This will display to the court that you are knowledgeable of your child’s needs, diagnosis, capabilities, schedules, and are able to provide them with the necessary care.

Further, it will be important to provide the court with an education on your child’s specific diagnosis. The judge will need to be understanding of the particulars of the disability to understand the child’s specific development and needs. Therefore, you may want to have their teachers, doctors, medical aids, or counselors testify before the court to provide a full picture of the child’s unique situation. These individuals will be able to provide the court with the diagnosis for the child, how it impacts them on a daily basis and how it will impact them later on in life. Some may also testify as to the parental involvement necessary for the child as well as which parent has been more present or available.

Finally, after determining a parenting plan, the court will determine a proper child support award. Due to the unique circumstances of the child and their special needs, you may ask the court to order child support beyond the age of majority. The court may make such an award if it is determined that even after the age of 18, the child will still be dependent due to their mental or physical disability. 743.07(2) This is where testimony from your child’s medical doctor will be important as they will be able to properly determine how this disability will affect them later on in life and if they will always be dependent upon their parents for support.

If you are entering a divorce or child custody dispute involving minor children with special needs contact a Florida Child Custody Attorney today. We will be able to not only argue for your rights but for the protection and care of your child.

Speaking to an attorney at our Florida office is free of charge, and we accept calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at 850-307-5211 or complete an online contact form to get in touch with a member of our team today.

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