An increasing number of custody and family court proceedings involve children who have been diagnosed with autism, or a related disorder, such as Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (P.D.D.-N.O.S). or Asperger’s syndrome. Frequently, children with either autism or a related disorder will receive one or more services from infancy after a diagnosis has been made. These services may include behavioral therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, feeding therapy, and the like. In New York State, those services are typically provided in the child’s home until his or her 3rd birthday. Thereafter, the child will be re-evaluated, given an I.E.P. (Individualized Educational Program) by the school district, and further services will be provided as needed.
Exactly how can these diagnoses, and the services these children receive, affect the outcome of a custody or family court case? As in all custody and family court cases, the primary consideration of the court will be the best interests of the child. The court will look to the parent who is best able to provide those services to the child as a strong indication of who should be awarded custody.
In some cases, the non-custodial parent may be asked to observe and participate in the child’s therapy sessions as a condition of visitation. However, in every case it will be up to the court to weigh the child’s best interests with the rights of the non-custodial parent to visitation and parenting time with the child.