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Divorcing with a special-needs child

The most vulnerable victims of divorce are the children of the divorcing parents. When children with special needs are involved, there are even more challenges to be managed.

Parenting a special-needs child can be quite stressful on the parents' marriage. This is especially true if their parenting styles are markedly different. Of parents rearing autistic children, for example, the divorce rates typically rise precipitously.

You also should be prepared for the California family law courts to render custody decisions that are based on your special-needs child's best interests and not your own preferences. They factor in things like:

  • The child's developmental status
  • Their ability to express themselves verbally
  • The limitations of their condition
  • Their temperament

Parents should be mindful of seeking custody arrangements that address their children's special needs. For instance, most neurotypical pre-schoolers can adjust to spending part of the time at Daddy's house and the rest of the time at Mommy's. But that could be a nightmare when trying to introduce a changing custody schedule to an autistic six-year-old.

In these situations, it can be helpful for parents to think outside of the box for their custody solutions. Trying something like bird's nest parenting where the parents rotate in and out of the family home may be preferable in these situations.

However, a court will not usually order such an unusual arrangement. But if the parents are able to reach accord via mediation prior to having their parenting plan finalized by the court, the family law judge will likely sign off on it. Your attorney can guide you through the mediation process to ensure you get the best custody arrangements possible for your child.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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Phone: 925-271-5650
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