According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 68 children is on the Autism spectrum. Statistics show that 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. As such, it should come as no surprise that many divorces and child custody disputes involve children with special needs. Special needs children often have extra issues that parents need to be aware of when crafting a custody settlement—called a Parenting Plan in Washington–or preparing for a divorce trial.
Like custody or visitation decisions regarding non-special needs children, the custody and visitation schedule for a special needs child will be made based on what is in the child’s best interest. Special needs children often have additional or different needs than other children, and so the best interest inquiry often becomes especially focused in certain areas. The parent who has historically been the primary caretaker will be exceedingly important, especially in those cases where the child has a lot of special requirements or procedures. If one parent has historically been primarily or even solely responsible for getting a child to his or her therapy or doctor appointments, providing in-home medical or therapeutic services, or in other ways handling the child’s special medical or therapeutic requirements, the court will likely be sensitive to this. That parent is more likely to be better equipped to continue to provide the day-to-day care for that child.
The parents’ ability to work together will also be an essential inquiry. In many cases, special needs children require more medical or therapeutic appointments than other children. The parents’ ability to cooperate and communicate is key in ensuring the child’s continuity of care. If one parent has shown he or she is unwilling or unable to keep up with effective communication, this will be an important consideration.
Each parent’s ability to access the resources necessary to continue the child’s care will also be considered. For example, if one parent’s new home is far away from the child’s care providers, it may not be best for the child to reside primarily with that parent, if such a home would require an excessive amount of travel time just to obtain normal medical or therapeutic services.
This is just a small sample of unique issues that arise when making a custody decision regarding a special needs child. We have extensive experience helping our clients in these types of cases and in crafting unique orders to address the individual requirements of special needs children. Call us today at (253) 272-9459 to discuss your case and your options.