what's in the best interest of the child in custody cases

Special Needs Children in Family Law

Recently updated on February 14th, 2022 at 12:28 pm

Figuring out the best custody situation for your child already brings stresses and heartache. Special needs children can make custody an even more sensitive process. A sad truth in Connecticut is that parents of children with special needs divorce at higher rates. This has a lot to do with the extra obligations and responsibilities placed upon the couple to care for their child.

What are Special Needs?

Children are considered to have special needs when they have a mental, physical, or emotional condition that requires assistance in their daily lives. Blindness, deafness, autism, and Down syndrome are common examples of such conditions. Depending on the situation, special-needs children might attend special programs in or out of school that happen during unconventional hours or locations.  All cases have unique circumstances to consider before deriving a plan for the child’s growth, education, and socialization. The needs of some children are more profound than others, but none are less important.

In a recent custody case, we represented a client whose child whose special needs focused on the child’s requirement for a gluten-free diet.   As caregivers of special needs children know, their children often have special diets that are essential. This can be a challenge. Educating the court (i.e. Judge) why orders regarding special diets are necessary was key to promoting this child’s special needs. Fortunately, the court listened and adopted our suggestions in implementing court orders that included dietary restrictions.  

Custody Agreements

In all child custody situations, judges make determinations focusing on the best interests of the child and minimal disruption to his or her life. A parenting plan for children with special needs require a highly customized agreement that is the result of input from professional analysis; primary-care doctors and child psychologists often offer advice during the process. For example, if your ex-spouse keeps the house with a wheelchair ramp for your child with cerebral palsy, that will likely carry considerable weight when the judge is deciding physical custody.

Alimony and Child Support

Spousal support, such as alimony and child support, should also be determined with special considerations in mind. Child support for individuals with special needs may continue until he or she becomes 21, whereas such payments usually end when a child turns 18. Additionally, individuals with special needs are often eligible for means-tested government benefits like Medicaid and Social Security. Support payments from one spouse to another could jeopardize eligibility for these government programs if not structured with that in mind.


Just as in marriage, agreeing to a divorce judgment and parenting plan requires compromise and sacrifice in order to accommodate your child or children’s best wishes. If you are seeking a competent legal team with experience handling delicate issues with the special care you and your children need, please consider calling us today at (203) 344-7007 or (860) 266-1166.

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