When there is a special needs child involved in a divorce, issues of child custody, visitation and support can be more complicated to understand and negotiate as more factors are involved. Your attorney should have a clear picture of what the special needs of this child are so he or she can help structure an appropriate parenting plan as well as financial plan for the client and for the child.
The Parenting Plan
The special needs child often requires more consistency and structure in a post-divorce parenting plan. Furthermore, both parents must work together to accommodate travel needs, special equipment which may be necessary to take back and forth between homes, and special educational needs of the child. Parents should be flexible with one another regarding the child’s health needs and medical appointments which are often more complex and lengthy than that of a non-special needs child.
Further, oftentimes the primary custodian is more familiar with the special needs child’s routine, special care required, and consistency of daily life. It is important that a parenting plan specifically addresses these needs. This allows both parents not only to agree to what should be the appropriate practice in such circumstances but also prevents future argument over related legal custody issues. The same time, care and attention given to the special needs child should be given to the child’s parenting plan.
Financial Support for the Child (Child Support)
Caring for a special needs child is often expensive. Most standard court financial declarations and child support calculations do not account for most of these expenses, so deviations from the guidelines are often warranted. Some state statutes or case law may continue the support obligation for the rest of the special needs child’s life.
Child support expenses may include therapy, medical equipment, medication, nutritional supplements, dietary restrictions, modifications to the family home and car, relief care and other care givers, elective surgery, as well as highly-specialized medical professionals who may be out of network. There are also expenses for medical and life insurance and the child’s special educational needs.
Education for the Special Needs Child
Often, the special needs child receives special education and is on an Individual Education Program (IEP). It is important both parents are aware of the requirements, discipline, procedures and results the child achieves via the IEP. Further, the Judgment of Dissolution should include, if possible, the cost of sharing additional educational expenses, such as independent evaluations, tutors, consultation, advocacy, legal fees, and other support services for the child as he or she transitions out of the educational system.