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Divorcing when you have a child with special needs

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP April 12, 2019

When it comes to divorce, there is one major consideration that is different for parents of special needs children. Your child may not transition to normal adulthood at age 18. You may be co-parenting with your divorcing spouse for a long time to come. Moreover, certain financial choices you make during your divorce could not only impact their lives but also affect their eligibility for benefits.

Therefore, there are important considerations for the parents of special needs children when it comes to divorce and co-parenting. The issues are such that you may want your divorce attorney to bring in a specialist who understands estate planning for special children.

Considerations for parenting rights, responsibilities and child support

With a special needs child, extra care needs to be taken by both parents to help the child understand what is happening and what to expect. It’s crucial to divide the parental rights, responsibilities and parenting time in a way that supports the child’s emotional needs and best interests.

A good place to start may be coming to an agreement over what abilities and disabilities your child has. From there, consider how easily your child would be able to handle transitions between parents or missing seeing each parent every day. What would make a good transition? How will you handle it if your child becomes lonely for the other parent?

Your child support agreement may need to include sharing medical and other expenses arising from your child’s disability. Rather than having a fixed monthly amount in child support, you may want some to create a sharing and reimbursement plan for expenses like:

  • Special medical care
  • Medical equipment
  • Prescription medications and non-prescription treatments
  • Nutritional support and vitamins
  • Paid respite care for the custodial parent

Planning for your child’s adult future

As your child grows into an adult, you need to plan for how your child’s care will be managed in the long term. For example, one or both parents may wish to seek a guardianship over the child once he or she turns 18. This would maintain your ability to order medical care and handle your child’s finances.

When a special needs child becomes an adult, they may be entitled to government or private benefits. Their eligibility for these benefits, however, may depend on income. Some payments, including child support, may be taken into account when determining their eligibility. A lawyer with experience in estate planning for special needs individuals may be able to help structure your divorce settlement to minimize its effect on eligibility for these programs.

If you are parenting a special needs child and are considering divorce, discuss your concerns with an experienced family law attorney.