How to Successfully Get Custody of a Special Needs Child

how to get custody of a special needs child

The processes involved in getting custody of a child are complicated.

It is even more challenging if the child in question is a special needs kid.

Several factors can trigger the arrangements for child custody.

Some cases may include divorce, the demise of parents, or a case of mismanaged behaviors of an adult in whose care a child is under.

In most cases, a child is categorized to need custody if they are still under the age of 18.

However, there are cases (especially for that of a special needs child) where the age for which they’ll be under custody can go beyond 18 years.

Table of Contents

Who Is a Child with Special Needs?

A special needs child is a minor with one form of disability or the other.

They usually require extra care and attention during the process of their upbringing. This can be a result of the child’s health or behavioral condition.

To get custody of a child with special needs, you may need to hire an attorney who specializes in family law in your state and who will give you legal advice.

The attorney will also evaluate the situation to determine what’s right for you. This may enable your attorney to negotiate child custody proceedings in your favor.

Special needs children can be classified as such when they show signs of:

Mentally disabled

This is a condition where they find it difficult to learn and develop as fast as other children.

Physically disabled

This could be a result of impaired vision, inability to walk on their own, signs of cerebral palsy, among other forms of physical disabilities.

Emotionally disabled

This could mean that the child exhibits traits of being anti-social, having behavioral issues, among other conditions.

Requirements for Getting Custody of a Special Needs Child

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In cases of divorce between couples, they are required to reach an agreement on whose custody a child should be.

If such an agreement can’t be reached for one reason or another, the decision will be taken by a judge in a family court, based on which environment between the two couples will benefit the child best.

This act is known in the United States as the Child’s Best Interest Standard.

The court will look into various factors before deciding which parent or guardian will have custody of the child. Some of those factors are:

1. Ability to Provide Adequate Care

Since it is a child with special needs, the court will assess the resources, schedule, and availability of each parent in caring for the child.

This includes the ability to provide adequate medical care, shelter, and education for the child.

2. Assessing How Change of Location Will Affect the Child

This factor takes into consideration that some children with special needs find it difficult to adapt to a change of location or environment. For example, children with autism.

If the child is better off staying in the same location where he/she has grown up, the judge may likely rule in favor of the parent or guardian staying in the same location with the child.

3. Relationship between the Child and Each Parent/Guardian

The relationship of the child with each parent is evaluated to ascertain which parent will make the child more comfortable.

An absentee parent, for instance, may not stand a great chance of acquiring custody of the kid.

In addition, a relationship specialist may be called upon by the court to determine the level of relationship bonding each parent has with their child.

4. Mental and Physical Health of Each Parent/Guardian

As a result of how challenging and hectic it is to take care of a special needs child, the court may look into the physical and mental health of each parent.

Even though some physically disabled parents can take care of a child, the court may need to evaluate how well they can do it.

Types of Child Custody

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After evaluating the evidence before them, the court may award one of the following types of custody to one parent or both.

The decision by the court may depend on the factors listed above.

Physical Custody

This type of custody manifests when a court rules that a child will stay with one parent.

For instance, if the court rules that Parent A will have physical custody of a child, it means that he/she is entitled to have the child live with him/her.

The other parent, in this case, might be given the right to visitation or parenting time.

Some courts may decide to award joint physical custody, in which the child will take turns spending time with both parents.

This may not be ideal for a child with special needs, as the constant change in the environment may affect them negatively.

When a parent is awarded legal custody, it means that he/she has the right to make decisions about the child’s education, medical care, religious upbringing, and so on.

Both parents can be awarded legal custody, in which case both can make decisions about the child’s education, health issues, among other personal decisions.

Sole Custody

This type of custody can either be sole legal custody or sole physical custody.

Sole legal custody sees to it that only one parent is given the right to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing.

In the case of sole physical custody, the child gets to stay with one parent.

Courts normally choose sole custody if one of the parents is deemed to be unfit to take care of the child. This could be a result of excessive alcohol or drug abuse.

Apart from these factors, sole custody is becoming unpopular in the United States, as courts usually now let both parents be involved in the upbringing of a child.

It is joint custody when parents share the responsibilities of taking care of a child and deciding the child’s upbringing, even though they no longer live together.

Keep This in Mind

It is pertinent to note that there are varying laws and procedures for getting custody of a child with special needs in some states in the US.

As such, it is best to do additional research about your state’s child custody laws to enable you to know the right legal procedures involved.

How to Successfully Get Custody of a Special Needs Child


My love for the disabled community started when I helped a blind man cross the road at around age 6. Fast forward to decades later, I became the caregiver of my grandma, who lost her ability to speak in her 90s. This blog helps me to produce helpful content that aligns with my passion.

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