Divorcing When You Have a Special Needs Child

Divorce is challenging for every family. However, if you have a special needs child, then additional concerns and issues need to be addressed throughout the divorce process to ensure the best interests of your child are protected and their specialized needs are met. There are certain complexities involved with raising special needs children that require specialized academic or medical attention. Children with special needs oftentimes require specific types of support, care, academic assistance, or therapies. Therefore, because children with special needs have a greater need for tailored programs and extraordinary expenses, there are often unique child custody arrangements and child support calculations that need to be established to support and address their unique needs.

Divorce typically requires a great deal of compromise between spouses with respect to their children and what their lives will look like following a divorce. When divorcing parents share a special needs child, issues can become more challenging and complex as special considerations need to be made during and following a divorce.

How Family Courts Address the Requirements of a Special Needs Child

In the best of circumstances, both parents will come together to provide adequate emotional and financial support of their special needs child. However, with separation and divorce, it becomes increasingly difficult for parents to work together for their special needs child, since it is often difficult for divorcing parents to remain civil and cordial to each other. As with every other divorce, a court will determine both parents’ ability to provide care that is in the best interest of the child. Additionally, in circumstances involving special needs children, they will look to see how the needs of the child have been addressed by both parents in the past, and how both parents propose to handle academic, medical, and other unique needs in the future.

For example, one parent may have always been the one who takes the child to medical appointments, stays at school with the child during the school day to help with academic needs, helps the child with emotional, speech, or physical therapy, or generally is the primary caregiver. The family court handling the divorce will absolutely take into consideration how one parent has been the primary point of contact regarding the needs of the child on a daily basis. This may translate into the parent who offers more support to the child on a consistent basis receiving more custody time when child custody arrangements are determined. This may also translate into the primary caregiving parent receiving more child support than typical child support calculations would provide in other custody situations.

Best Interest of the Child

In every divorce that involves children, a court will look to see what is in the best interest of the child. This holds true for families with or without children with special needs. The court has a legal responsibility to ensure that they are helping provide an environment that will help assist the special needs child in their academic and personal development. For example, if a child with special needs has difficulty with transitions, the court may ultimately determine that only one parent has overnight custody to allow the child to have a sense of continuity and stability for their comfort. In many cases, medical experts can help judges make these types of determinations regarding what is in the best interest of a special needs child, specifically with respect to their custody schedule, their daily routines, and their development. Ultimately, this also means that child support calculations may look different than that of a typical divorce case. Special needs children may require specialized academic programs, extensive therapy, or continued medical treatments that cost a great deal more than would be involved in a typical divorce case. These specialized programs are often included as extraordinary expenses in the child support calculation.

Special Needs Trust

There are other considerations that both parents need to give for their special needs child following a divorce. One of the ways that a parent can ensure the financial stability of their child after they die is to create a special needs trust on their behalf. These special needs trusts operate differently than last will and testaments and can provide financial security for a child with special needs even as they grow into adulthood while still allowing the child to receive government benefits.

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 Charlotte, North Carolina at Arnold & Smith, PLLC at 704.370.2828 or online today for your initial consultation.