Disabled Children and Divorce / by Cassandra Hearn

The overarching inquiry in any divorce or child custody case is what is in the best interest of the children. California law has a specific set of guidelines and provisions that a trial judge will examine when trying to decide what is in a child's best interest. When parents share a child who is disabled, there are some special inquiries and issues that will be involved with the determination of best interest. Parents and courts alike need to be sensitive to the unique challenges that face special needs children.

An initial inquiry may need to be whether a child's disability has been previously diagnosed. In some cases, one parent may be resistant to the idea that a child has special needs, and will try to make it difficult for the other parent to obtain proper therapy or assessments as a result. This type of denial and refusal to cooperate is extremely relevant for the court's best interest determination. It is often essential that a child's special needs are diagnosed as early as possible in order to provide the child with the best long-term treatment plan as possible, with the best chance for maximizing the child's quality of life. If one parent is standing in the way of this path, it may be necessary for the other parent to request sole decision-making authority for medical issues to avoid having to fight with the other parent every time an assessment or therapy plan is developed.

Children with special needs also need special attention to their parenting schedule. Although every child requires stability, many disabled children will thrive with a visitation schedule that does not involve multiple residence changes every week. Consistency and stability is often key, and keeping the children from having to switch homes unnecessarily can help reduce stress. Parents should discuss alternative visitation schedules that would allow the children to maximize quality time with both parents and put the children’s interests first.

The issue of child support should be carefully examined. Children with disabilities often have extraordinary costs associated with therapy and medical appointments. Moreover, California Family Code §3910 provides that even after a child turns the age of majority, child support may continue if the child is without sufficient means of support or learning ability.

We have extensive experience in helping our clients to navigate the delicate issues surrounding special needs children. Call us today for an appointment at 619-800-0384 to talk about you’re your case and how to protect your child’s best interest.