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Considerations for divorcing parents of special needs children

When parents divorce, the children are affected. For some, the divorce may mean there will be less arguing in the home. For others, it may be the most emotional, saddest event in their young lives. However, an estimated 1 million marriages with children end in divorce each year. Those parents who have a child with special needs will generally face a more complex divorce process.

During a divorce or a child custody hearing, the court will always consider what is in the best interests of the child. In some cases, that will be the same as what the parents want -- or it could be different. Parents may think they want what is in the best interests of the child, but the court may determine it is something else.

Here are some of the factors that are considered when making child custody determinations for a special needs child:

-- The ability and capacity of each parent to meet and understand the child's needs

-- How stable the home environment is

-- The relationships between the parents, sisters, brothers and other family members and the child

-- What the child wants

-- The methods of discipline used by each parent

-- How old the child is

Each special needs child will respond differently to divorce. It's important to consider the child's emotional maturity, ability to cope with change and resiliency to change. These factors could influence the visitation arrangement. For example, instead of shorter visitation periods, it might be easier for the child if the visitations were for longer periods of time.

Childcare will also need to be considered, as many special needs children need someone who can respond to the child's unique needs. Even something as minor as changing the pickup location can create anxiety for the child.

There is much to consider when divorcing with a special needs child. Your divorce attorney can provide a list of resources to help make the process easier.

Source: Medical Home Portal, "When Parents of Children with Disabilities Divorce," accessed Dec. 01, 2015

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