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How Can Having a Child With Disabilities Affect Your Divorce?


Navigating a divorce with children involved is always an emotionally and logistically complex matter, but when parents share a child with disabilities, it becomes even more challenging. Child custody is almost always the most contentious and emotionally charged matter for parents to consider during a divorce, but when it comes to deciding custody for children with special needs, there may be much more to consider.

In the best-case scenario, parents can make their own agreement on a parenting plan that works best for their child and the judge need only sign off on the agreement during the final divorce hearing. Otherwise, the judge must make the final decision on child custody, parenting time, and child support for a child with a disability.

Custody and Visitation Decisions for Disabled Children

The Colorado courts make all decisions in the best interests of the child and with the understanding that close and frequent contact with both parents is in the best interests of all children, including those with special needs. Both parents have ample opportunity during the divorce process to make their own arrangements for sharing parenting time. When working out a custody agreement parents of a special needs child should consider the following:

  • The child’s emotional and cognitive ability to handle the changes involved in separating one family into two households
  • How each parent and home can meet the child’s healthcare requirements
  • The child’s safety and ability to move back and forth between two households with any necessary medical equipment
  • What parenting time schedule best supports the child’s unique needs
  • How parents plan to share decision-making custody of a child who requires frequent medical decisions and may require emergency medical decisions
  • Finally, will one parent have full custody and the other parent visitation, or will parents share parenting time 50/50? Does the preferred parenting schedule work with the child’s scheduled therapies such as speech, occupational, and physical therapy?

It’s ideal for parents of a disabled child to put aside their differences for the sake of their child and agree on a schedule that puts the needs of their child first.

What to Show the Court If You’re Seeking Custody

For parents seeking custody of a child with disabilities or special needs, the courts require that the parent demonstrates how that’s in the child’s best interests. For example, a parent must demonstrate:

  • That their daily schedule allows them sufficient time to meet the child’s needs
  • That they are deeply familiar with their child’s basic needs, medical requirements, appointment schedule, and daily routine
  • That their home after the divorce accommodates the child’s needs and personal space
  • That their post-divorce parenting plan involves the least amount of disruption to the child’s life
  • That they are willing to co-parent with their ex-spouse and have a strategy for accommodating visitation so the other parent can continue close and frequent contact with the child
  • That they have plans and estate strategies in place for long-term care if the disabled child requires lifelong support

A Colorado child custody attorney can help facilitate compromise and open communication between divorcing spouses to work out a custody arrangement that works for the whole family when it involves a child with disabilities.

Child Support for Children With Disabilities

Colorado has standard child support calculations based on each parent’s income and the amount of parenting time they have in their arranged parenting schedule. However, the state’s standard formula for calculating child support doesn’t always work for families with disabled children. Child support may also impact a child’s qualification to receive disability benefits.

When a child’s disability makes them dependent on long-term support, a judge may order a parent’s child support obligation to extend beyond the usual emancipation age of 19. An attorney can help parents list all expenses related to their child’s care and anticipate their future expenses to calculate child support.

If a parent has to significantly alter their work schedule after divorce in order to meet their child’s needs, an order for spousal support may be in order.

Whenever a divorce involves matters of child custody and support, both parents should have experienced legal representation but it’s especially important for divorcing parents of special needs children.

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