What will the Court do if my Child has Special Needs?

What will the Court do if my Child has Special Needs?
DivorceIn general, trial court are given the specific task of determining what ultimately is in the child’s best interests. This definitely includes taking any special needs into consideration. Judges have great leeway in determining what, they think, is in the child’s best interests after hearing all evidence regarding the family.

A very interesting case in the Third District Court of Appeals recently dealt with this issue. In Turnier v. Stockman, the parties’ minor child was deaf from birth. The Father and Mother in this case were also deaf from birth. The trial court was asked to determining a time sharing schedule for the minor child. The Father lived in St. Johns County and the mother lived in Miami-Dade County. Ultimately the trial court ordered that the minor child should live with the Father during the school year in order to attend the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. The minor child resided with the Mother during the summer.

One issue in the case was whether the trial court should have appointed a Guardian Ad Litem for the special needs child. A Guardian Ad Litem is someone who is appointed by the court to speak on behalf of the minor child. It is an excellent tool to use when parties have a special needs child and will be able to inform the Court what special requirements are needed to adequately care for the child. Unfortunately, the parents in Turnier did not formally request a Guardian Ad Litem, and the appellate court held that it was not necessary to appoint one. However, the Appellate Court did say that The Florida Legislature may wish to amend section 61.401, Florida Statutes (2013), to require the appointment of a guardian ad litem in such unique circumstances as the one presented here.

Another option is to have an expert witness testify regarding the minor child’s special needs. Unfortunately, in Turnier, the parents also did not utilize this tool. The appellate court ultimately ruled that an expert witness testimony is not required in order for the judge to make a decision about what is in the minor child’s best interests. But, in my experience, the trial court welcomes expert testimony regarding the child’s special needs. In Turnier, the trial court heard from both the father and mother, both of whom are deaf and therefore have particular knowledge of the communication and educational needs of a deaf child. Each testified as to his or her opinion regarding the minor child’s level of communication. The trial court made its ruling based upon the parties testimony and the ruling was upheld by the appellate court.

How We Can Help
If you, a friend or a family member find themselves in a situation such as this, please call the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A. at 305 670-3330 right away. Scott A. Ferris, Esq. is a licensed family law attorney who has been practicing law since 1987. He is available whenever you need him to pursue your rights. Please learn about our firm at www.FerrisLawFirm.com.