Establishing Time-Sharing and Parenting Plans for Children With Special Needs

Crafting parenting and time-sharing plans are challenging enough under ordinary circumstances. When the child whose custody must be resolved also has special needs, the decisions become even more difficult. However, when these cases go to court, the law imposes the same analysis as all other parenting plan and time-sharing matters. Namely, the court must decide based upon the best interest of the child. The law does not require the involvement of guardians ad litem or expert witnesses, as one recent Third District Court of Appeal ruling highlighted.

A Florida man and woman, both of whom were deaf, had a son who was also deaf. The mother and son lived in Broward County, and the mother enrolled the boy at a school in Pompano Beach with both deaf and non-impaired students. The father, who lived in St. John’s County, sought to modify the time-sharing plan so that the child could attend the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, located in St. Augustine near the father’s home. The school offered education entirely in sign language and also allowed deaf students like the son to participate in extracurricular activities and athletics.

At the end of the first day of trial, the judge expressed that he “needed” to appoint a guardian ad litem. However, since the court could not find a guardian fluent in sign language, no appointment was made. Ultimately, the trial judge sided with the father, ordering that the father have the child during the school year, with the mother receiving custody during the summers, and the parents would alternate weekends with the boy.

The mother appealed the ruling. First, she argued that the trial court’s failure to appoint a guardian ad litem required reversal of the order. In general, the law requires trial courts to appoint guardians ad litem in parenting plan determination cases only if a party alleges abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The mother argued that the requirement for a guardian extended to her family’s case because the judge stated that he “needed” to hear from a guardian ad litem. The appeals court rejected this, explaining that the trial judge’s simple act making this statement on the record did not create a legal requirement that an appointment occur in order to create a valid time-sharing order. The court also pointed out that the mother did not lodge an objection to the lack of an appointment, instead continuing to proceed with her case.

The appeals court also did not accept the mother’s argument that the order was invalid because no expert witness testified, which, she claimed, was necessary to create a parenting plan for a child with physical challenges. The court ruled that the law imposes no such requirement and that the 2011 case upon which the mother relied for this argument did not impose such an obligation on trial courts. In that case, the appeals court overturned a parenting plan that called for annual rotation of custody of a child with ADHD, but the court did so because the plan was not in the child’s best interest, not due to the lack of expert testimony.

Parenting plan and time-sharing determinations require balancing numerous considerations, both legal and personal. For advice and representation that is both knowledgeable of the law and sensitive to your family’s needs, consult the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A.. Our attorneys can help you to create a plan that works for your family.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Father’s Right to Share in Residential Decision-making Triggers International Convention, Forces Dispute Case Back to Brazilian Courts, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 5, 2014
Trial Court Overstepped in Awarding Mother 100% Timesharing of Couple’s Child, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 28, 2013