Custody Issues Can Be Challenging If They Involve a Special-needs Child

Custody issues can be contentious if the parents of a special needs child are in disagreement on matters such as medical treatments and therapies.

According to the Texas Children’s Policy Council, the number of families raising children with disabilities in Texas is high and growing. Childhood disability is “on the rise in every demographic.” It is estimated that around 10 percent of Texas children have some type of disability. While all families face challenges, the families of children with disabilities face additional hurdles. An article published by Psych Central notes that children with special needs often require an enormous investment of time, energy, and money by their parents. Unfortunately, marital problems often arise in special needs families due to a “lack of time for nurturing the marriage.”

A divorce, while difficult for any family, can be even more difficult for a family with a special-needs child given that custody issues can be more complex to resolve. Medical Home Portal has found that, as to special-needs children, it is an all too frequent occurrence that both parents will not be in full agreement as to the needs of their child. One parent may disagree totally with the other parent on how to best care for and meet the needs of the child. Even worse, one parent “may be in denial about the special needs.” The Texas Bar Association observes that, where a special-needs child is involved, custody issues can quickly become contentious if parents strongly disagree as to specific medical treatments, therapies, and dietary regimens.

One example of how visitation issues can become challenging with regard to a special-needs child is discussed in a Huffington Post article. A special-needs child with developmental problems “often has difficulty with transitions” and is most comfortable with the familiar. Special-needs children dislike what they view as an abrupt change in their environment and surroundings. Accordingly, a special-needs child allowed to visit the noncustodial parent may believe that he or she is being forever abandoned by the custodial parent. Thus, what should be a routine visitation with the noncustodial parent could frighten or emotionally upset the developmentally challenged child. Custody and visitation decisions concerning a special-needs child will often have to take into account possible emotional and psychological problems that would not be presented by a typical child.

Successfully raising a special-needs child after a divorce requires cooperation between the parents in order to further the child’s cognitive, social, and physical development. It is typically better if parents can reach an agreement between themselves on post-divorce custodial and visitation issues rather than leave them up to a Texas judge to decide.

Explaining the divorce

According to, one of the most difficult things about divorce in a special-needs family is how to inform the child about the divorce in a way that the child can grasp and understand. In talking to the special-needs child about an impending divorce, it is suggested that parents should:

  • Tell the child together.
  • Speak honestly and openly with the child but avoid giving long drawn-out explanations that could be confusing.
  • Remain calm while explaining the divorce.
  • Refrain from being argumentative or denigrating each other.
  • Let the child ask questions and listen to his or her concerns.
  • Reassure the child that he or she is not the reason for the divorce.

Seeking legal help

If you have a special-needs child and are contemplating a divorce, you should contact a Texas attorney experienced in handling custody matters. An attorney can advise you on how to proceed in order to protect your interests and those of your special-needs child.