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Creating a custody plan for a disabled child

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Creating a fair and equitable custody plan with your spouse is often one of the portions of any divorce process that holds the most potential to be frustrating and emotionally draining. These negotiations can be even more so when they involve the shared care for a child with a disability.

Like all custody plans, it is crucial to keep the focus of the negotiations on creating and sustaining the best possible life for the child, and not use the child as leverage in your disagreements with your spouse. A quality custody plan for a disabled child should focus on visitation and home-to-home transitions, educational decisions and ongoing specialized medical care.

Often a custody plan will entail a child spending most weekends and holidays with the non-custodial parent. However, it is important to be aware that with a disabled child, it is often best to not create structures that require the child to adjust to new environments constantly. This may mean less frequent, longer stays with the non-custodial parent.

It is also wise to take special care to ensure that the routines within each home are complementary so that the child feels more at home in both places. Educational decisions are crucial to make as a team, with the emphasis on maintaining consistency for the child.

Medical care will also be an ongoing need for a disabled child. Often, one parent's situation may be such that the necessary medical care options are not as available for them as they are for the other parent, either geographically or because of resources.

It is important to make care of the child the priority over a balanced time-sharing plan. If spending time with one parent means a lack of access to vital medical care, it is best to find ways to spend time with the child while staying within areas where necessary medical care is available.

Creating a custody plan with your child's needs in mind is both a great privilege and responsibility, but it can become a point of contention between you and your spouse. The guidance of an experienced child custody attorney can help ensure that your child's rights and needs are kept at the heart of the negotiations.

Source: American Bar Association, "When Parents of Children with Disabilities Divorce," Barbara Epperson, accessed July 22, 2016

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