Divorce Factors to Consider When You Have a Special Needs Child

Special needs” is a term used to include a wide variety of circumstances your child may face, including physical limitations, autism, learning disabilities, health impairments and other developmental limitations. If your family is facing a divorce and you have a child with special needs, there are several factors that must be considered:

  • Visitation schedule. The visitation schedule used in the majority of divorces may not work for your family. It is common for a special needs child to require structure and consistency, so strategic planning is necessary to arrange for travel, equipment, medication, proximity to certain medical professionals, special diets and many other factors.
  • Child support. Even with insurance coverage, providing for a special needs child is expensive. Common costs include medical equipment, medications, therapy, relief care, and modifications to the home and vehicle. The standard child support guidelines used by most courts do not properly account for the costs associated with a special needs child. Additionally, you and your ex-spouse may be required to provide financial care throughout your child’s lifetime.
  • Individualized Education Program. If your child receives an Individualized Education Program (IEP), it must be determined whether one parent or both should be required to sign the IEP. Your divorce decree should outline additional educational expenses and how they are to be paid.
  • Transitioning into adulthood. Depending on your child’s unique circumstances, your divorce agreement may need to address issues such as guardianship, eligibility for government benefits, independent living and custodial care.
  • Supplemental Security Income. If your child is eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), alimony for the primary caregiver and child support payments should be structured in a way that protects this eligibility.
  • Special needs trust. As part of your divorce, long-term estate planning tools such as a special needs trust should be used to protect your child now and in the future.

If you have a special needs child and you are getting divorced, contact an experienced New York family law attorney to protect the best interests of your child.

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