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Divorcing When You Have a Special Needs Child


Children are a blessing and joy to every parent, and every single one needs extra attention and support during the parents’ divorce. Working out the issues of parenting time and decision-making are challenging in the best of divorces, but these issues take on extra weight when a couple has a child with special needs. These children often need additional care and support as a routine part of their lives, and adding in divorce introduces a new stressor that can disrupt this network of support and complicate the child’s condition. Divorcing parents of a special needs child need to take particular care to understand what would be in the child’s best interests, including any extra money not taken into account by standard child support measures that would be necessary for the child’s wellbeing. In other words, negotiating child custody issues will be much more complicated and take considerably more time to fully and appropriately complete. Further, it is even more imperative parents in this situation put together their own plan, and not rely on the court, as they are really the only ones who truly understand what the child needs and how best to provide it.

How Each Parent Views the Child’s Condition

As a preliminary matter, there needs to be a clear understanding of how each parent views the child’s condition, his/her needs, and his/her capacity to function. With certain conditions, like Autism as an example, parents can greatly disagree over what the child’s capacity is, and without agreement, there will not be a reasonable way to decide the amount of care the child will need and how best to provide it. This can become a very disputed issue, and the court may need to step in to resolve which parent will have authority to make medical decisions and how the costs of these measures will be allocated between the spouses. Settling this issue is especially important because, in addition to standard childcare and child support, any arrangement would need to include estate planning and transitioning the child into adulthood. Both of which will require contributions from each parent in the form of care or financial support.

A Day in the Life

To truly understand what the child requires on a daily basis, one’s divorce attorney should be walked through what a typical day in the child’s life looks like. This will allow the attorney to better ascertain what level of support will be needed to provide the required care and which parent is better equipped to have the child in his/her physical custody. For example, for some children, having them transition between homes is not realistic, and the other parent may need to exercise parenting time in the former spouse’s home in order to accommodate the child’s needs.

Financial Support

Finally, financial support for a child with special needs will look very different from the standard approach used to calculate child support for most children. Alimony may also be required if the child’s caretaker has to limit or forego working to handle the child’s daily needs. Further, the child’s future needs and associated expenses may be hard to predict, complicating how to structure child support for a particular situation. Another consideration is that direct payments to the other parent can impact the child’s qualification for government benefits, so structuring in-kind child support and alimony may be the best way to avoid this issue.

Get Help

Structuring a divorce settlement when you have a special needs child presents unique considerations, and an experienced divorce attorney is needed to ensure you do not miss a crucial aspect of this process. The Fort Lauderdale divorce attorneys at the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. know how to guide you to the outcome you need to move forward. Contact us for a free consultation.

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