The Law Offices of Christine G. DeBernardis

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Parenting Your Special Needs Child

Penny and Zach had a stormy relationship from day one.  They argued over food, traveling and holidays.  After they were married, they could not agree on anything except their child’s name.    When Baby Levi was 3 and still behind developmentally, Penny sought out medical care and learned that the baby may require special needs.  Zach disagreed and filed for divorce.  Zach provides the required child support but nothing more and refuses to acknowledge that his child needs special care, blaming this on “bad parenting” of the mom and an attempt to get more money from him. 

Unfortunately, this is not that uncommon.  Parents of special needs children, or even parents of children without special needs, do not always see eye to eye on the care of their child.  Often one parent will be unwilling to see their child as a special needs child, leaving the other parent to work through the process alone.  This process involves medical care, special classes in school and more.  What do you do when your ex won’t help parenting your special needs child?

The answer to this can be complex.  It will depend on whether you have gone through a full divorce and custody process.  We will break these down in two parts.  

  1.  If you have a court order discussing your parental duties before you found out about your child’s medical condition, and that order calls for joint legal custody (where you presumably share these decisions), you need to consider a modification of your current order to place those decisions in the hands of just one parent.  Generally, a modification allows you to ask the court to change a variety of custody arrangements as well as child support when you provide evidence of the need to do so.  Here, you would want to show that the parties disagree as to educational decisions and that one parent’s making those decisions is advantageous for the child. 
  2. If you do not have a court order that defines parenting and custody, but plan to get one, it’s time to go to Court and define the obligations of the parents.  You will put in place specific rights of the parents and address the needs for your child.  Items such as decisions making for educational issues, money for special medical attention, educational requirements and more, must be laid out with some specificity.  


Either of these paths will require an experienced family lawyer.  It can be difficult to succeed with a modification without the proper proof that one is truly needed.  In the case above, the husband will probably fight a modification since he does not believe the child has any special needs.  If that is the case, he may enlist doctors who will contradict those that say otherwise.  As you can see, this can become costly and it’s vitally important to the well-being of your child.  The Court will consider only that which is in the best interest of your child.  Having an experienced lawyer will yield you the best chance at winning for your child.  


Also keep in mind that parenting is difficult even with a child that does not have special needs.  One parent may believe in homework while the other does not.  One parent may think that video games “teach” though the other feels they are just a waste of time.  A father may not want a child to learn certain things (ie sex education) at school while the other finds this enriching.  Though the situation may be aggravated parenting your special needs child, the situation also exists for parents of children in mainstream learning.  If you face these issues, discuss your case with an attorney to iron out a plan that works best for your family and  your children.  


If you are experiencing this situation or have questions about a similar issue, contact me today.  My office offers a free phone consultation so that you can be sure you are hiring the right attorney for your situation.  



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