Parenting Plan Considerations for Parents of Special-Needs Children

Putting together a parenting plan isn’t easy under even the best of circumstances. You need to balance the needs of the child, the parents’ preferences, and keep any potential future circumstances in mind.

As the parent of a special-needs child, however, your parenting plan takes on a whole new level of complication and worry.

Regardless of the type and severity of your child’s disability, your parenting plan needs to take into account care plans, ongoing medical treatment, and a need for routine and stability.

As you and your co-parent work through your parenting plan, here are some things you both need to account for in the document:

Medical Costs

Whether your child needs routine therapy appointments to help learn life skills or requires round-the-clock care, you and your ex need to be very clear on how medical expenses are to be handled.

The medical costs of your special-needs child can easily creep into the thousands annually, or even monthly.

When drawing up your parenting plan, it’s important to include items such as who pays for insurance premiums and deductibles, how uncovered medical expenses are paid, and whether the child will be considered for any alternative or non-traditional medical treatment. In addition to the financial considerations of your child’s medical care, your parenting plan also should address who is responsible for medical decision making, and who can change your child’s medical providers.


Families of special-needs children, especially those with behavioral disorders, ADD/ADHD, and autism may face some difficult decisions about their children’s education. Items such as whether the child will attend a special school or educational program, how testing and evaluation will be managed, and what therapies and interventions will be explored.

Just as with medical, the parenting plan needs to lay out who will be responsible for decision-making regarding education, and how the costs of any school-related expenses will be handled.

Special Needs Trust

In some cases, families should consider setting up a Special Needs Trust for their child. This is a financial account that provides funds for things such as your child’s care, as well as protecting any assets they may have from Social Security Income or other sources of income. 

If you believe your child may need a special needs trust, consult with an estate planning attorney to set up this account properly and ensure your child’s ability to receive SSI and Medicaid benefits in the future.

Life Insurance

For many families, life insurance is used to secure child support payment in the event of the payor’s death.

Special needs families should consider this option, but also may want to discuss whether any life insurance they carry should be used to provide for their child’s medical needs, treatment, and general living expenses. Should one of the parents die, these life insurance funds can go into a trust to be used solely for the purpose of the child’s care and daily living expenses.


In most cases, courts like to preserve shared physical custody of children. It’s often the situation that provides the child the most access to both parents, giving them the opportunity to form a bonded relationship.

However, in the case of special needs children, a 50/50 custody split may not be in their best interest.

Children with extensive medical care needs or behavioral challenges that can be worsened by the shifting routines of going between houses may require more flexible and creative custody solutions. This may mean that, while the child lives full-time with one parent, the other parent is given frequent and unimpeded access to dinners, homework help, and just general time to spend with the child.

Family Lawyer in Washington, D.C.

Each family is unique, and each parenting plan is unique as well. The team at Lopez Law Firm can help you create an equitable, stable parenting plan that meets the needs of your child while maintaining access to both parents. Call today for a consultation!