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Custody of Special Needs Children in Michigan


Although there is limited research regarding the divorce rate for parents with a special needs child, some studies, such as a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, found that parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) were more likely to divorce compared to parents of children without a developmental disability. Regardless, parents of special needs children tend to face additional obstacles during their child custody proceedings.

How Child Custody is Determined in Michigan?

Michigan’s Child Custody Act states that the best interest of the child is the primary factor to be considered in determining parenting time arrangements. The best interest factors include such considerations as each parent’s capacity and disposition to provide the child with love and affection, and with guidance regarding education, medical care, or other remedial care. Thus, the court may consider the child’s medical needs, educational needs, and any other special needs that may require a unique parenting time schedule or extra accommodations.

Child Custody and Parenting Time Plan for Kids with Special Needs

Here are some key things to consider when creating a child custody and parenting time plan for special needs children:

  1. The child’s individual needs: Although most parents want to put their children’s needs first, the requirements of a special needs child are often more rigorous. Special needs children may require more frequent or specialized medical care, therapy, or educational support, which can impact custody and parenting time schedules.

  2. Co-parenting communication: Co-parenting communication is essential when creating a parenting plan for special needs children. It is important for parents to have open and honest communication about the child’s needs and to work together to create a plan that meets those needs.

  3. Consistency and routine: Special needs children often require more consistency and routine in their daily lives. When creating a parenting plan, parents need to consider their work schedules and whether they can provide the child with the needed structure, consistency and routine.

  4. Flexibility: While consistency is important, it is also important to be flexible when creating a parenting plan for special needs children. Parents should be willing to make adjustments to the plan as the child’s needs change. For example, if you ask for shared parenting time, can you take off from work whenever necessary to go to emergency appointments?

  5. Accessibility: Special needs children may require specialized equipment or accommodations in the home or in order to participate in activities or travel. When you separate and obtain separate housing, that is also within budget, will the necessary equipment fit inside your home?

  6. Medical care and therapy: Prior to separation, you and the other parent had a level of trust to share information about the medical care and therapy. After separation, it is much more difficult to maintain the shared knowledge. How are you going to continue the communication and share attendance at the appointments?

  7. Necessary skills and resources: Although you may be a great co-parent and encourage a relationship between the other parent and the child, does that parent have the necessary skills and resources to care for the child? If only one parent provided the bulk of the care to the special needs child, you may need to consider a training period before you implement a liberal parenting time schedule.

How Does the Court Create a Parenting Time Schedule?

When creating a child custody and parenting time plan for a family with a special needs child, the one-size-fits-all type of order hardly ever works. It likely will not be in the best interests of the child to employ a basic parenting time order.  Rather, a parenting time order that takes into consideration common events for a special needs family will likely prevent future litigation.

Get Expert Help with Michigan Child Custody Cases for children with special needs!

If you have a special needs child and are faced with a divorce or child custody dispute, give us a call at 616-285-0808, to discuss some options on how to work towards an order that will best serve the needs of your child.