Custody and the disabled child: What to consider

On Behalf of | Mar 23, 2023 | Divorce

Even parents in intact relationships can struggle to manage a severely disabled child’s care. When each parent is faced with the prospect of handling the child’s needs on their own after a romantic breakup, the struggle can become genuinely overwhelming.

Custody and visitation, too, can get very complicated when a child has significant disabilities. That means looking at the child’s unique situation even harder than normal and (often) “thinking outside the box” where custody is concerned.

What sort of things have to be factored into the custody of a disabled child?

The primary factor in determining custody of any child, disabled or not, is the child’s best interests. The court will consider the child’s physical and emotional health, medical needs and educational requirements, as well as any specialized care the child may require.

When the child has severe physical, mental or intellectual difficulties, these are some additional things that may need to be considered:

  • The ability of each parent to provide care: This includes the parent’s ability to provide for the child’s basic needs, as well as their ability to provide any specialized care required by the child’s disability. If one parent cannot mentally or physically cope with their child’s care, that may limit their options for custody and visitation.
  • The impact of the disability on the child’s development: Arrangements that are normally appropriate for a pre-teen or teen may not be appropriate when the child has delayed development. For example, a teen with severe autism may not be able to easily transition from one home to another for visitation, much like a smaller child.
  • The need for durable medical equipment or special care: If a child requires medical equipment that’s hard to move, it may be difficult to have the child switch homes for visitation. This is also true if the child requires daily in-home medical attention.

Every family is unique, so every custody and visitation arrangement should be tailored to the situation. In cases like this, parents may want to consider a “birdnesting” custody arrangement that keeps the child in one place, make use of virtual visitation or simply allow one parent to have primary physical custody and the other to visit the child where they live. Exploring all your options takes some time, but legal guidance can help.