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Feb 29, 2024

Custody of Special Needs Children

Feb 29, 2024 - Family Law by |

Navigating child custody matters in Maryland becomes especially intricate when a special needs child is involved. The legal considerations, the child’s best interests, and the unique challenges associated with caring for a child with special needs all contribute to the situation’s complexity. A Bethesda child custody lawyer can help you understand how to proceed through the challenges involved in this particular situation.

Standing to Pursue Custody

A threshold question is whether you have the right to pursue custody. In the legal world, this is called “standing.” Standing to seek custody is automatic for birth mothers and spouses who were married throughout the mother’s pregnancy. However, if a child’s parents are unmarried, Maryland law gives custody of a child to his or her mother. Unmarried fathers must establish paternity before seeking custody.  

Legal Framework for Child Custody in Maryland

Like many states, Maryland prioritizes the child’s best interests when determining custody arrangements. Courts consider various factors, including each parent’s ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment, the child’s existing relationships with family members, and any history of abuse or neglect.

Maryland recognizes two main types of custody: legal and physical custody. Legal custody pertains to one’s decision-making authority for the child, including matters related to education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. Physical custody refers to where the child resides.

Custody arrangements can be sole or joint. In joint legal custody, both parents share decision-making responsibilities. Joint physical custody involves the child spending significant time with both parents. Sole custody means one parent has primary decision-making authority or primary physical custody.

Special Considerations for Special Needs Children

When a child has special needs, the court considers additional factors to ensure that the custody arrangement aligns with the child’s unique requirements. These considerations can include:

  • Medical and Therapeutic Needs: Special needs children often have medical and therapeutic needs that may require ongoing attention. The parent who can best address these needs may be favored in custody determinations.
  • Consistency and Routine: Children with special needs often thrive in consistent and routine environments. The court may assess which parent is better equipped to provide the stability and routine necessary for the child’s wellbeing.
  • Education: Special needs children may require specialized educational support. The parent who can facilitate and advocate for the child’s educational needs may be given priority in custody decisions.
  • Financial Considerations: Caring for a child with special needs can result in additional costs. The court may consider each parent’s financial capacity to meet the child’s specific requirements when determining custody.

Crafting Custody Arrangements for Special Needs Children

Navigating custody arrangements for special needs children involves careful consideration of the child’s unique circumstances. If you are a parent of a special needs child, there are key strategies for crafting arrangements that prioritize the child’s wellbeing:

  • Open Communication: Effective communication between parents is crucial. Discuss the child’s needs openly, exchange information about medical and therapeutic appointments, and work together to create a consistent approach to caregiving.
  • Comprehensive Parenting Plan: Develop a comprehensive parenting plan that outlines the child’s daily routine, medical needs, and educational requirements. This plan can serve as a guide for both parents and can be submitted to the court as part of the custody agreement.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: Recognize that the needs of a special needs child may evolve over time. Build flexibility into the custody arrangement to accommodate changes in medical or therapeutic interventions.

In some cases, involving professionals such as therapists, doctors, or educational specialists in the custody process can give the court valuable insights and ensure that the child’s unique needs are adequately addressed. Given the complexities involved, seeking legal representation is crucial. An experienced Bethesda child custody attorney can advocate for the best interests of the child, navigate the legal process, and help create a custody arrangement that meets the child’s specific needs.

Child Support and Special Needs Trusts

Child support is designed to help ensure that a child has what they need regardless of which parent’s home they are in at the time. In Maryland, a parent may be required to pay child support to the other parent until the child is 18 years old or finishes high school. 

Child support may be extended for a longer period of time if the child has a substantial disability. Any support paid for a child over the age of 18 can affect your child’s ability to receive government benefits. That said, a Special Needs Trust can be created to avoid losing eligibility because of support paid over the age of 18. 

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation with a Bethesda Child Custody Attorney Today

Child custody matters involving special needs children demand a nuanced and empathetic approach. Maryland’s legal framework for custody prioritizes the child’s best interests, and when special needs are a factor, the court takes additional considerations into account. Crafting a custody arrangement for a special needs child requires collaboration, open communication, and a commitment to meeting the child’s unique needs. By navigating the legal process with care and sensitivity, parents can work towards arrangements that provide stability and support for their special needs child.

If you are trying to navigate a divorce and have a special needs child, please call 240-395-1418 or TELL US HOW WE CAN REACH YOU ONLINE today.