Divorcing with children is always challenging, but the situation is even more complex when special needs children are involved. Their unique array of needs and the hands-on parenting needed to manage their conditions can make it especially difficult to agree on a divorce settlement. As you plan for life after divorce, consider everything your special needs child will need throughout childhood and for the rest of their lives. Working with a divorce attorney who has handled similar cases can also help you feel more confident as you move forward with your life.
Not sure where to start in the divorce process? The team at Coumanis & York is here to talk you through your next steps. Schedule a consultation now by calling our Mobile office at 251-431-7272 or our Daphne office at 251-990-3083.
The Effects of Split Parenting Time
First, you’ll have to think about how split parenting time will impact your special needs child. In Alabama and most other states, courts prefer to give both parents meaningful amounts of parenting time. This can be challenging for a child who is used to being cared for by both parents. Instead of assuming that a one-size-fits-all solution will work for your child, you may need to look at what they are accustomed to and what their needs are, and then move forward from there.
The Custodial Parent’s Work Needs
In many families with special needs children, one parent serves as the primary caretaker while the other is the primary breadwinner. If that is the case in your family, you’ll need to think about the financial needs of the primary caretaker. For the sake of the child, you may choose to have them remain the primary caretaker throughout childhood. However, this means that they may be unable to work full-time. It may be ideal, then, for the non-custodial parent to pay more in child support or alimony to support the stay-at-home parent.
Above-Average Medical Expenses
Special needs children often have substantial medical expenses, as well as frequent specialist appointments. Your divorce settlement may need to address who is responsible for taking the child to these appointments, who covers copays, and who pays for anything that isn’t covered by insurance. Legal custody, which allows one or both parents to decide what type of care is needed, is an even more important decision when a special needs child’s care hangs in the balance.
The Transition into Adulthood
While most divorce settlements only cover a child’s needs until they reach adulthood, special needs children often need much more support as they navigate the transition into adulthood. In your divorce settlement, consider addressing guardianship, who will help the child find employment or adult day programming, and whether or not the child will go into custodial care. If the child keeps living at home, you and your ex-partner may need to decide who the child will live with. If you plan on putting them into group home or another type of custodial care, you may need to decide who will be the primary point of contact.
Care Needs in Adulthood
Your coparenting time will likely not end once your child reaches 18 or 21 years of age. If their needs are significant enough to require ongoing support from government programs or caretakers, this responsibility may continue throughout their lifetime. Just as you contemplated their transition into adulthood, think about who will be responsible for helping the child throughout their adult life.
Qualifying for Government Programs
This is perhaps one of the most complex parts of raising a special needs child. Many children with significant needs rely on Medicaid, SSI, and other government programs during their adult life. Child support and other forms of direct support can cut into an adult’s government benefits or even wipe them out entirely. You’ll need to work with an attorney who understands special needs trusts and knows how to provide for your child’s needs without endangering their government benefits.
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