Raising a child with special needs requires patience, love and of course, money. While raising children in 2016 is expensive by default (approximately $245,340 from birth until age 18} the cost of raising a special needs child can often quadruple those expenses. Doctors’ visits, hospitalization, medical equipment, therapy, special education, medications, caregivers– these costs add up to hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars. This financial stress often puts serious strain on a marriage and as a result, parents of special needs children have a higher divorce rate than the overall population.
Divorce is already a complicated situation when there are children involved. Adding a special needs child into the mix creates an even more delicate situation. Custody decisions must be made completely based upon what is best for the child, and there are various factors you should consider when faced with this choice.
Come to an agreement regarding the child’s needs
Parents often disagree about how to raise children and address their needs. With a special needs child, it is even more essential to come to an agreement quickly. Determine where the areas of disagreement are in order to properly address the future needs and care of the child as part of the divorce case.
Determine if the special needs child will require support after age 18
The severity of disabilities can vary greatly. When a case is extreme, there is no debate whether or not the child will need continuing support as an adult. Child support will be continued indefinitely in this case. However, you cannot always determine whether the child needs support beyond high school. If the court does not recognize the need for permanent support then the burden will be on the primary caregiver. When an adult disabled child needs support beyond the lives of their parents it increases expenses and creates unique challenges.
Create a parenting plan
Whichever party receives full custody is going to know more about the child’s disability. If you are sharing custody, it is vital to educate your ex-spouse on the daily care of your child. You need to spell out all the essential information: managing behaviors, monitoring food, adapting physical surroundings, medication schedules or the preferences of a nonverbal child.
Educate yourself on public benefits planning
Your child might be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (cash benefits for individuals with disabilities) so alimony and child support must be organized within your child’s benefit eligibility. A family law attorney will work with a special needs attorney and an experienced financial adviser to make sure you receive all of your child’s monetary entitlements. Child support payments can affect government benefit programs like SSI and Medicaid, so it’s critical to address these issues during the divorce process.
There are several other questions you and your ex-spouse need to address when handling the custody of your special needs child. These questions include:
- With whom will the child live?
- How much contact will the non-primary parent have?
- Does the school district where the child attends have a residency requirement?
- Can the child make smooth or frequent transitions between houses?
- Does the child have access to the other parent at all times?
- Can the child be away from home/the primary parent for extended periods of time?
- If there is more than one child in the household, how will parenting time be split up?
- Who will pay child support and in what amount?