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Special Considerations When Couples with Special Needs Children Decide to Divorce


Most couples will say that divorce becomes much more problematic when children are in the picture. Regardless of how unhappy the parents may be, children usually prefer they stay together, and most will almost unavoidably suffer some negative impact if divorce does occur. The complications of children and divorce are even higher if a child has special needs, which require the dedication of additional resources to manage. Whether the issue is physical, developmental or psychological, providing the appropriate amount of care is often a challenge. Typically, one parent is tasked with providing the bulk of childcare in this situation based on which is better equipped to fill this role. Factoring in the needs of such a child is essential to formulating a parenting plan that is both best for the child and workable for the parents. In addition, providing sufficient support is another consideration that should be examined more closely, especially if one parent has stopped or reduced their working career in order to care for the child.

Time-sharing, Decision-making, and Care

The divorce law in Florida prefers to grant parents equal parenting time with a child, which means the child frequently switches between households. However, the best interests of the child is always the primary measurement used to determine how to structure parenting time, and children with special needs may not respond well to a constant disruption in routine and environment. Instead, it may be better to agree on a schedule with extended time with each parent so the child has time to accept and adjust to change. Figuring out the optimal arrangement for coordinating parenting time may require the parent to be flexible, which should be reflected in the parenting plan.

Another area that can present challenges for parents with special needs children is education. This child often need specialized programs, instructors and/or aids to create a learning environment that gives them the best opportunity to learn and grow. Parents may not agree on how to approach or provide educational opportunities, which could create problems for the child. If the parents share authority to make these decisions, it is important that the divorce decree include provisions on how the parties will resolve such disputes if they arise.


The standard formula used to calculate child support is based on the parents’ combined incomes and the number of children. However, deviations from this minimum amount are permitted if the needs of the child dictate it. Florida law specifically authorizes courts to increase the child support amount if the child has extraordinary medical, psychological or education expenses. A child with special needs frequently requires special therapy sessions and consultations with experts to address the child’s condition, which would qualify as extraordinary expenses. Further, many of these treatments are not covered by health insurance, and parents should negotiate how to divide these costs as part of the divorce decree to avoid future disputes and disruption to treatment.

Because the needs of each child are unique, the most important and essential step parents with special needs children must take is to educate the attorneys and the judge about the child’s particular circumstances. This information will go a long way to ensuring the best possible arrangement is created.

Contact a Family Law Attorney

Divorce with children is hard, but even harder if there is a child with special needs. Working through this process with an experienced family law attorney will ensure you know all your legal rights and options, and allow you to make the best decisions for your family. Family law attorney Joyce A. Julian, P.A. represents clients in the Fort Lauderdale area, and understands the stress and emotion of divorce. Contact the office today for your free consultation.




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