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How a Co-Parent’s Terminal Illness Can Impact Custody

If a parent has a terminal illness, child custody can be impacted. Co-parents may have to revisit visitation, agreements, routines, and more.

Co-parenting with your child’s mother or father after they have become terminally ill can impact custody in several ways. The parenting agreement might have to change significantly, which can affect the custody schedule, visitation, your child’s routines, and more. It’s important to use extreme care when communicating and coordinating with your co-parent and child throughout this delicate process.

What to expect

Because this is a highly emotional topic, it’s recommended that healthcare providers initiate custody discussions with single parents early on in the course of the disease. This helps keep these conversations separate from a sick parent’s deterioration in physical functioning or mental willingness. Having these discussions during the early stages of the terminally ill co-parent’s diagnosis gives both parents the opportunity to seek legal help, discuss difficult matters with family members, and make changes to legal documents if needed.

Most judges are reluctant to make long-lasting or permanent changes to child custody based on a parent’s illness or medical condition. A sick parent is unlikely to lose custody or parenting time due to illness, however, a judge may order custody changes if your co-parent’s illness becomes severe enough. Even in extreme cases, the judge will likely seek to make changes to the parenting agreement or custody schedule temporary and reversible.

If your child’s other parent is terminally ill, there may not be any immediate modifications to your parenting agreement or custody schedule, however, you need to be prepared for the possibility of rapid changes. This is not only of benefit to you and your co-parent, but your child as well.

How to help

You can help ease your child’s emotional stress by striving to provide as much stability and support as possible during this difficult time. Discussing custody matters with your co-parent ahead of time and having a plan in place will help with this. Though these conversations might be difficult, preparing for potential changes down the road is necessary for your child’s well-being.

If your co-parenting relationship allows, facilitating quality time between your child and your co-parent can mean a lot to both of them. Whether you can help them spend time together in person or through video calling, you can help create precious memories for your child by supporting and encouraging these interactions.

Just being there for your child can go a long way. Talk with your child about how they’re feeling and allow them to open up to you. If your child has questions about their terminally ill parent or their future, it can be beneficial to discuss these matters with your co-parent before answering to ensure that you’re both on the same page.

Where to get help

If your child loses a parent to a terminal illness, don’t be afraid to seek help. There are resources available to help children cope with the loss of their mother or father. If your child is struggling with the death of their parent, consider counseling, reach out to loved ones for support, or check out some of these resources:

Co-parenting with a terminally ill parent can be tumultuous for everyone involved. If you need assistance with matters like child custody, visitation, parenting agreements, etc., seek help from a legal professional. Additionally, in order to help your child through this difficult time, you must also take care of yourself. For mental and emotional support, surround yourself with loved ones or get help from a licensed therapist.

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