Special Needs Child Custody
Lawyers Fighting for the Rights of Children and Parents
Each child is different, and each responds to divorce differently. Divorce may be stressful for everyone in the family, but it may be especially hard on a child with special needs who has needs that cannot wait while the parents work through their issues. When considering any aspect of a divorce, the parents and the court must consider the impact of any special needs that will be tied into child custody and support. For example, when considering whether alimony in a divorce is appropriate, the court should take into account the impact on the ability to work outside the home that a caregiver parent might face. If you are going through a family law case and are concerned about the various issues that can arise related to caring for a child with special needs, you should retain a Denver child custody attorney who understands the law and your situation.
Special Needs Child Custody
In Colorado, all decisions related to child custody are supposed to be made based on what the child’s best interest is. When there are multiple children, each child may require a separate assessment of their best interest. The goal is to encourage a child’s emotional development and well-being, as well as their physical security and happiness. In most cases, it is in a child’s best interest to have a strong relationship with both parents.
Factors to consider in an ordinary case include the child’s relationship with each parent, the ability of a parent to put the child’s needs ahead of their own, the physical and mental health of all of the parties, opportunities for interacting with extended family, the age and sex of the child, domestic violence, cultural considerations, and any special needs that a child has and whether both parents can meet them.
It is sometimes challenging to figure out which custody arrangement would serve a child’s best interest. There is no formula that can be followed to ensure a child’s best interest, and even under the easiest conditions, there may be a need for adjustments over time. All children have certain needs, such as love, support, stability, food, shelter, clothes, education, a social life, and good medical care. However, children with special needs may have additional needs or more intense basic needs. Parental responsibilities (legal custody) involves the right to make major decisions for a child, such as those related to education, medical care, or religion. When the parents are able to work together, they can share legal custody of a special needs child. Though joint decision-making is certainly the norm, there are situations in which one parent is not capable of making decisions or truly attuned to the special needs of a child. In those cases, sole decision-making may be more appropriate.
Colorado does not favor the mother or the father in determining custody. Generally, the parents should work together to figure out where the special needs child will live and where any equipment that the child needs will be kept.
Both parents need to provide support for the child. The court may order either or both of the parents who owe a duty of support to pay a reasonable and necessary amount to support the child. Among other things, a child with special needs may need certain foods, equipment to get from place to place, equipment for other disabilities, tutoring in multiple subjects, therapy, and medication.
Generally, the parents must split the costs of care, medical expenses, mental health expenses, equipment, and other needs. The physical and emotional condition of a child and their educational needs, including special needs or disabilities, are an important factor that must be considered when applying the child support guidelines. Other relevant factors include each parent’s financial resources and any resources the child may have, such as SSI or SSDI.
The parents will also need to make sure that an appropriate Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed for a special needs child. IDEA 2004 and various special education regulations have specific requirements for IEPs when behavior affects the ability to learn or affects the learning of others. A child’s IEP will need to include a statement of their present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. The IEP will also need to include a statement about any special education and any supplementary services or aids that will be provided to the child, as well as a statement of program modifications and supports for personnel to follow. When the parents have joint legal custody, both of them should be involved in developing the IEP.
Any parenting plan should also address what will happen to a special needs child as they grow into adulthood. When a child with special needs is mentally or physically disabled and cannot be self-sufficient, a child support order may stay in place past the 19th birthday of the child, either until the disability ends or as long as support is needed. The child support may include medical expenses, insurance coverage, and other necessary items. Disability is not explicitly defined in Colorado, but often a Social Security Administration’s designation of a child as disabled is sufficient proof of disability.
Consult a Dedicated Special Needs Child Custody Lawyer in the Denver Area
If you are concerned about issues related to special needs, divorce, and child custody you should consult an experienced family lawyer who understands all of the potential issues that may arise. At Plog & Stein, P.C., our Denver attorneys are sympathetic to our clients’ needs and provide diligent and zealous representation to help them pursue their goals both during divorce and afterward. Contact Plog & Stein, P.C. at (303) 781-0322 or online to schedule an appointment with a Denver divorce attorney. We also represent people in Lakewood, Brighton, Westminster, and Thornton, as well as other areas of Denver, including Jefferson, Adams, and Boulder Counties.