Parenting Plans and Families with Special Needs Children

When parents separate or divorce it is a difficult time for adults and especially for children. There is a roller coaster of emotions to deal with and navigating the procedural issues of who gets what, financial responsibilities and most important parental responsibilities, things start to get stressful quick. What happens when the divorcing parents have a child with special needs? You guessed it, the Perfect Storm.

Many parents ask for “full custody” or won’t take less than a 50/50 timesharing schedule. Of course, it is natural for parents to want to spend as much time with their children as possible. However, it is important to realize that parents must be sensitive to the needs of their child. The best interest of the child is actually the guiding principle for Florida Courts when determining issues of timesharing and parental responsibility. Prior to the judge making the determination (barring an emergency or an issue of safety of the child) the parents have the opportunity to go to mediation to attempt to reach an agreement between themselves on how they will raise their child by developing a parenting plan that encompasses time spent with each parent and the responsibilities of each parent without the court making these decisions for them.

Reaching an amicable agreement between the parents is important, especially when a child with special needs is involved. Special needs children require more deliberate considerations from their parents regarding developmental abilities, stability, emotional support, medical needs, educational needs, etc. When these decisions are left up to the opinions of experts and ultimately the decision of the Judge, your child loses. The Judge will NEVER know your child as well as you do. You, as the parents, know your child’s unique individual needs and you are in the best position to craft the parenting plan that meets those needs.

There is no question, having a child with special needs, requires a lot of patience, communication, compromise, effort and sacrifice between parents of intact families. These requirements only become that much more important when parents no longer live together. To do what is best for your child instead of what is best for yourself may mean letting go of the inter-parent conflict and sacrificing quantity for quality.

A quality relationship with both parents is as vital to your child’s well-being as proper nutrition, medical care, clothing and housing. Know your child’s needs, figure out how those needs can be met and meet them. Another benefit to amicably resolving your conflict is the ability to be creative. The Judge does not have that luxury when crafting a parenting plan for your child; he/she is confined to some pretty narrow parameters. You have an opportunity to take this great responsibility you have been given and create an environment for your child that puts his/her needs first.

NEED HELP? Ask about our non-litigation family mediation, education or parenting coordination services.

Attorney Heidi M. Crimins of Crimins Family Law and Conflict Solutions Firm, PLLC is a Supreme Court of Florida Certified Family Mediator and Qualified Parenting Coordinator in the Seventh (Volusia County, Flagler County, Putnam County, St. John’s County), Ninth (Orange County), Fifth (Lake County and Marion County) and Eighteenth (Seminole County) Judicial Circuits of Florida.

For more information please contact us at (386) 873-2756.

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