Custody and visitation considerations for special needs kids

When parents divorce, it's generally best if they can share custody of their children, and the kids can spend time at both parents' homes, even if most is spent with one parent. However, for children with special needs, moving back and forth between residences may not be the best solution.

Kids with physical, intellectual and mental challenges may find moving back and forth upsetting. Some kids with special needs may suffer from separation anxiety or have sensory issues that make being in a less-familiar environment unnerving. Kids with physical disabilities may require equipment that's difficult to move or require accessibility aids that one parent's home may not have.

While it may be difficult for non-custodial parents to accept these limitations on their ability to be with their child, it's essential to put the child's needs first. Non-custodial parents can still be a big part of their kids' lives by coming to their house regularly for dinner, helping them with homework, taking them to appointments and communicating with them via Skype or other electronic means, if the child is able.

Some parents -- even those without special needs kids -- opt for something called "bird's nest custody." This is where the kids stay in the family home and the parents alternate living with them.

Just as with physical custody, the issue of legal custody can be more significant with a special needs child because it determines who can make medical and educational decisions for the child. If parents have conflicts over things like mainstreaming their child or what type of therapy or treatment is appropriate, it may be best if only one parent assumes legal custody.

It's essential to look at your child's needs and ability to adapt to new situations when making decisions about custody and visitation. Speaking with your child's doctors, therapists and teachers may help give you a more objective perspective.

If parents can't agree on these matters, a judge may choose to appoint a guardian ad litem. This person acts as a neutral third party who will investigate the situation and determine what is best for the child.

It's always important for estranged parents not to put their kids in the middle of their conflicts or expose them to their bickering or negative feelings about the other parent. This is even more essential for parents of special needs kids.

Source: Healthcare News, "Custody of a Special-needs Child Sometimes, It’s Better to Focus on Quality Parent Time, Not Quantity," Melissa R. Gillis, Esq., accessed Feb. 06, 2017

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