UNIQUE CUSTODY ISSUES FOR SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN

Judge gavel and colourful letters regarding child custody, family law concept

Every child is unique and has his or her own personality, preferences, and needs. Each divorce and child custody matter is decided on what is in a child’s best interest. When a child in a custody dispute has special needs, there are often distinct or unique considerations that need to be taken into account when crafting a custody order.

Many special needs children have particular medical or dietary needs. Each parent’s ability to best provide for the child’s needs will be considered. If you have historically been the parent to drive the child to all of his extra medical appointments and received the specialized training from medical professionals to address the child’s special medical needs, then this will be taken into account when crafting a custody or visitation schedule. Similarly, if a child has particular dietary needs, the parent who has historically taken care of these dietary needs, whether that is in the form of food preparation, occupational therapy, or meal planning, will want to provide proof of that to the court in a contested custody hearing. However, this does not mean that one parent will receive preference with respect to custody. Further inquiry will require an analysis of each parent’s willingness and capability of caring for the child.

Special needs children often have higher than average medical needs, which brings with it higher than average medical bills. Including apportionment of medical costs in a child custody order is a standard practice, but when the parents know that future medical expenses could be extraordinary, it is vital to pay special attention to the division of such expenses between the parties.

Another issue is ongoing education. Parents need to be prepared to work closely together with the child’s school and each other to ensure the child’s educational plan is being followed and tailored to the child. Making provision for an ongoing plan of cooperation could be beneficial to set the stage for future success in planning your child’s education.

Child support is another area that can end differently in a case with a special needs child. New Jersey child support guidelines do not provide a way to take the extraordinary expenses that can be associated with raising a special needs child into account. If there will be expenses such as medical equipment, special therapy, special schools, etc. in your child’s future, it may be necessary to ask the court to deviate from the guidelines to take these extra expenses into account in order to adequately provide for the care of your child. Most importantly, parents need to consult with an estate planner to plan for the time when they may wish to apply for government benefits for the child. For instance, child support payable to a parent is considered income to the child. Planning ahead and making child support payable to a trust can protect the child’s eligibility for government benefits.

Every custody case and every child has individual issues. We are experienced in assisting our clients seek appropriate custody and child support orders for their special needs children. Make an appointment with us today to talk about your child and what special issues should be addressed in your divorce or custody case. Call us at (732) 479-4711

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