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Custody, Child Support and Children with Special Needs

Custody and visitation arrangements are made based on the best interests of the children. Of course, separating or divorcing parents might have wildly different opinions about what type of schedule would be in the best interests of their children. In many cases, determining the amount of time that children will spend with each parent, and the amount of child support to be paid can be extremely difficult and emotional. If you add into the mix a child with special needs, many of these issues become even more complicated.

About 13% of school children in the United States have special needs. The specific diagnoses include learning disabilities, language impairments, developmental delays, and autism. When a court must look into the best custody arrangement for a child, it is important to consider the independent needs of that child.

How can special needs children impact custody and visitation schedules?

When a child’s living arrangements are decided, the court will consider several factors, including the age and health of the child, the relationship between the child and a parent, each parent’s ability to care for the child, incidents of abuse within the family, and the child’s ties to their home, school, and community. In some cases, a special needs child might need access to a special type of educational program, a certain doctor, tutor or therapist. There are some cases where special needs children struggle to adjust to a schedule that involves frequent switching between residences. In the ideal situation, parents will work together to provide continuity between their homes as a lack of structure, or a schedule that frequently changes can negatively impact many special needs children.

Decision making

Another issue that can come up in custody cases involving special needs children is disputes about how to handle or manage the child’s condition. For instance, parents might strongly disagree on whether or not to medicate a child for a condition such as ADHD. Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions about a child’s education, religious affiliation, and medical care. Typically, parents share this right, but in some cases, such as when parents are completely unable to agree, one parent might be awarded sole legal custody.

Child support for children with special needs

Child support payments are calculated based on a formula that includes the income of both parents, the disposable income of both parents, and the amount of time the children spend with each parent. Typically, these payments are made until the child turns 18, or 19 while still in school. In the case of children with special needs, there are often additional costs. Medical treatments, psychologists, medicine, physical therapy, specialized diets, caregivers, equipment and home modifications all can lead to extremely high costs. Courts can modify child support payments to make the burden of these costs more equitable.

Additionally, since special needs children often continue to require care after they reach 18, courts can extend child support payments, and even order that both parents continue to support the child throughout that child’s life.

At Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, we understand the complexities of child support and custody cases. Contact us today at 909-798-3300 for a free consultation with one of our family law attorneys.

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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.