Divorce and the Special Needs Child

Every divorce typically has challenges involved. However, when two parents have a special needs child and they make the decision to divorce, they will have unique challenges to navigate to ensure their child is properly cared for. Both parents must make the decision to work in the best interest of their child to provide the best emotional and financial support not only during the divorce process, but for the rest of the child’s life. Divorce courts typically take into account how the family unit has operated during the course of the marriage to determine how to address the specific and unique needs of a child who has requirements for specialized attention or medical assistance.

Understanding Special Needs Children

A child with special needs is defined as a child who has been found to require specialized care, attention, and assistance that other children do not need. In many cases, the state may require a declaration of special needs status for the purpose of providing different types of assistance and benefits for the child's growth or development. Special needs children may have complex physical conditions, learning disabilities, or even terminal illness. Tax credits or tax deductions are often provided to parents in order to help them financially raise a special needs child. Some special needs children attend specialized schools or receive individualized instruction in public schools that include one-on-one teacher aides or opportunities for occupational therapy. Children with special needs are often provided with Individualized Education Plans or 504 Plans for their educational needs. These plans also require the parents to work together for the benefit of the child, particularly if the divorced parents are sharing legal custody of the child.

Best Interest of the Child

In every divorce case no matter the circumstance, the judge will look to see what is in the best interest of the child. This is a legal standard where the court will look at the circumstances prior to the divorce, and the current environment and conditions of both parents in order to make a determination regarding what is actually in the best interest of the child.

Courts have a legal responsibility to ensure that they work to promote an environment that would be in the best interest of a child, which can include their academics, extracurricular activities, and their physical and emotional development. If a child has special needs that directly relate to challenges with transitions, a court may make the determination that only one parent has primary custody with all overnight visits. This may help a special needs child still interact and visit with their other parent while maintaining continuity and stability of spending the night in one room continuously.

Therefore, many child support calculations and child custody arrangements look very different for families of children with special needs. Additionally, special needs children may require placement in highly specialized academic schools, extensive physical or psychological therapy, or continued medical treatments. All of these circumstances mean that the child support calculations and child custody arrangements can look very different with a special needs child following a divorce.

Special Needs Trust

If you are a parent going through a divorce with a special needs child, your focus may be on the academic needs and medical requirements of your child. However, you should begin to consider how a divorce can impact your special needs child not only in the immediate future, but also throughout your life and after you pass away. One of the ways that a parent can ensure the financial stability of a special needs child after the parent dies is to create a special needs trust on their behalf. These special needs trusts operate differently than wills and can provide financial security for a child with special needs even as they grow into adulthood. a special needs trust allows a child with special needs to continue to obtain financial support throughout his or her lifetime. These considerations become especially important if a special needs child will have medical or physical challenges that prevent the child from living independently or cause the child to require additional assistance even through adulthood. Consider visiting with an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through not only the child custody and child support calculations with respect to your special needs child, but also help you develop a plan to ensure the child’s financial security indefinitely.

Contact an Experienced Divorce Attorney

Many legal matters become more complex if your divorce involves a special needs child. Contact an experienced family law attorney in Monroe, North Carolina at Arnold & Smith, PLLC at 704.370.2828 or online today for your initial consultation.