Custody challenges for families of special needs children in Texas

Taking care of your children is responsibility number one for you as a parent. When your child has a special need then this is even more true. You have likely taken the special need(s) of your child into consideration for every major decision that you have ever made. Moving forward with a divorce was one of those decisions. While it was not easy to get divorced you felt like it was in the best interests of your child. Now is the time that you need to focus intently on determining what direction to go in when it comes to issues related to the well-being of your child.

Fortunately, a divorce is not a process that is over so quickly that you will not have an opportunity to think critically about what your child needs to get out of a divorce. While you cannot minimize all the potential changes to the life of your child it is impossible to completely shield him or her from the impacts of your divorce. With that said, being intentional about the decisions that you make related to child custody and having a plan for determining how to move forward in this regard can make a difficult process involving a wide range of emotions into something that is extremely manageable for you and your family.

This journey towards fulfilling your responsibilities and duties towards your child begins with a single step. However, it is easy to get paralysis of the analysis. This means that your good intentions could cause you to not be able to move forward with whatever plan you may have had when it comes to creating an effective parenting plan for your child. This is due to all the options and all the externalities that you need to think about. If you are the type of person who needs to walk through every option and view each circumstance painstakingly then this is the blog post for you.

The attorneys at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan want to help you be able to understand what the issues are in a divorce that features a special needs child. The more knowledge you have about the situation the better prepared you will be to make intelligent and wise decisions for yourself and your family. Do not underestimate just how much the well-being of your child can be impacted by the decisions that you make during your divorce. You may not get a second bite at the apple to do right by your child so be sure to work with an attorney you can trust in your divorce itself.

Our attorneys here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are proud to be able to work with families like yours whose children may have special needs. Whether your child has a physical, emotional, or behavioral special need we can help you create a parenting plan which helps your child. We have had the privilege of working with many families here in southeast Texas who have special needs, children. Every case is different, however, because each child and their needs are different. Stick around and read through today’s blog post with us so that you can see just how we think through this type of case and what outcomes may be best for you and your family.

Place the needs of your child first and foremost

The stresses and uncertainties of divorce are many. Your life is already hectic enough with work, family, and children’s obligations. Add to that the problems that people often encounter in a divorce and you have a situation where it is relatively easy to forget exactly what it is that you were doing or lose sight of what your most important goals are. Somewhere between getting the family house sold and retaining as much of your retirement account as you can, the issues related to your special needs child can sometimes get lost in the shuffle.

This is where having a plan is essential to your success. Assuming that you will be able to keep track of all the needs of your family including those of your special needs child may be easier said than done. The last thing that you want to do is to run into a situation where your child’s needs are going to be handled at the of the divorce. This is a recipe for disaster. You may run out of time or run out of goodwill to work through these issues with your spouse. Instead, you could find that you are not able to accomplish on behalf of your child what you had wanted to at the outset of your case.

Or, you may find yourself with no definite plan on how to proceed when it comes to your child with a special need. To this point in your child’s life, you and your spouse may have shared responsibilities in raising him or her. Each of you takes your child to the doctor. You both work with your child on their diet. Both of you wake up to see if he is ok when he wakes up with a nightmare. While this is good parenting it is not necessarily sustainable for after the divorce. You and your spouse are not going to be able to coordinate your efforts as easily after the divorce as you were before the divorce. You will not be living in the same home and will not be able to work together as readily on these issues.

What you are left with in the divorce is a vague understanding of how you typically handle matters related to your child but what you lack is a plan on how to move forward with the circumstances and the environment are more challenging. If you fail to plan, then you should plan to fail. We have all heard that maxim many times applied to various issues in our life. It is so true when it comes to your special needs child, however. Think about the various areas of your child’s life and how intentional the planning has been around his best interests. You may have an academic and behavioral plan at school when it comes to how he attends class. The doctor has a specific plan on how to balance his medications. The list goes on. To say that your child’s life has been structured would be an understatement. This is done to ensure that best practices are followed and that your child is provided the best opportunity to succeed.

Do not underestimate the need to continue that trend in your divorce. Rather than move forward with the divorce and assume that everything will work out in the end when it comes to custody issues for your child you should be as intentional as you can be when creating a visitation schedule, conservatorship rights, and everything in between. This is the roadmap for how you and your ex-spouse will co-parent your child once your divorce is over. This is not the time to have an ego, but rather, this is the time to put egos aside and do what is in the best interests of your child.

What are the specific needs of your special needs child?

What are the needs of your child? Does he have a learning disorder, autism, a physical disability, or a behavioral issue? This is the key to determining how best to move forward when it comes to creating the parenting plan that is best for his situation. Until you can key on the specific needs of your child it is impossible to craft a workable parenting plan and/or custody orders. What conservatorship rights and duties will be impacted by the special needs of your child? Are you going to consider the needs of your child when you determine parenting time, visitation, and possession schedules? Depending on the needs of your child it may be essential that you do so.

Consider what the special needs of your child are related to their schoolwork. This is an area that many parents who otherwise agree on these issues can find some disagreement regarding. Your co-parent may not want to put your child into a special classroom environment at school for him or her to be able to take exams and complete coursework. The ability to make decisions for your child regarding their schoolwork is a part of the conservatorship discussion in your child custody case. You and your co-parent will need to figure out how to handle educational decision-making and to what extent each of you will be able to voice your opinion on matters like this.

Or your child may find himself in a situation that is unique and has not been dealt with very often by other people in your life. In that case, you and your co-parent may need to lean on each of your attorneys to help you create the necessary framework to help your child maximize their developmental time both at home and in school. This is where having an experienced family law attorney buyer’s side can pay huge dividends. And mixed attorney can utilize their memories of prior cases and knowledge of the law to help benefit you and your family when it comes to creating orders intended to help your special needs child.

The ability of you and your co-parent to provide for the basic needs of your child will be at the forefront of the child custody case. If one of you has been the primary caretaker of your child since his birth, then the other parent is less equipped to do so in the future in most cases. With that said, it is also a balancing act for parents who find themselves going through a divorce with a special needs child. You want to be able to give your spouse the ability to offer an opinion, but at the end of the day, you value the best interests of your child more than your spouse’s feeling that his or her opinion is being heard.

For example, if you have been the primary caretaker for your child during his life then it would make sense for you to continue in that role after the divorce. If your spouse would like to become the primary conservator of your child, then there is nothing wrong with that. However, you need to be confident in your history as a parent and your skills in caring for a special needs child so that you do not make a decision that is contrary to the best interest of your child. Now is not the time to try to vary the relationships that your child is had with either you or your spouse.

Rather, maintaining stability and consistency in the life of your child is critical to him being able to take advantage of the opportunities provided to him by you and your spouse. For instance, putting your child in a situation where he or she can spend as much time with their siblings as possible is one way to reinforce stability and consistency in the life of your special needs child. The siblings of your special needs child will travel with him to your spouse’s home and back to yours. Neither you nor your spouse can travel with your child. As a result, your other children can act as caregivers and support for your special needs child, especially during the early stages of a divorce.

Child support for special needs children

another important factor to consider in a divorce with a special needs child is how you and your spouse are going to financially support your child moving forward. Most frequently, it is the parent who has visitation rights with the children who will be paying child support, also. You should think through the costs and necessary obligations of raising a special needs child when determining child support. The guideline levels of child support as outlined in the Texas family code may be insufficient for a child who has a special need.

If you know that your child has predictable costs each month for health insurance, medical bills, therapy, or anything else then those costs should be taken into consideration when child support is calculated. It may be an inescapable truth that the amount of child support that you or your co parent must pay is going to be more than the guideline levels of support. This could be especially true if your health insurance will be changing because of the divorce. Be sure to make phone calls or inquire about health insurance coverage before the end of your divorce. The last thing that you want to do is to run into a situation where you complete your divorce and have no knowledge of what the health insurance landscape is going to look like for you and your child once the case is done and over with.

One other issue to think through is that for most families child support payments and once your child turns 18 or graduates from high school whichever occurs later. However, your special needs child may require child support beyond age 18 or their graduation from high school. You can work with your attorney to try and figure out how you are going to negotiate this subject if your child will be unable to work after high school then he or she may need the help of financial support for some time until you all can think of the game plan for your child’s adult life.

Other important factors for special needs children

Deciding about where your child is going to live primarily after the divorce is one of the most essential that will be made throughout the case. Depending upon the services or programs that your child takes advantage of currently, this may be a relevant consideration in your case. For example, if your child attends counseling or therapy near your home then it may be best for you to remain as the primary conservator of your child. Or it may be a situation where your co-parent needs to move to a home close to your current home if he or she wishes to remain as a primary conservator.

If you are unsure about your legal needs and do not necessarily know where to begin when it comes to negotiating the subject of your special needs child, then you need to consider hiring an experienced family attorney for your divorce. Please do not underestimate the impact that a good family law attorney can have on your case and the well-being of your child before, during, and after your divorce comes to an end.

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law.

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