Divorce is an emotional process even for the most stable adults. For those parents who have children with disabilities, illnesses, or other special needs, getting a divorce can feel like an insurmountable obstacle.
Though it is true that obtaining a divorce as a parent of a child with special needs can be difficult, careful planning and attention to detail can help parents create a divorce decree and child support arrangement which will provide for all of their children, no matter the circumstances. If you are thinking of divorce and have a child with special needs, make sure you take these factors into consideration.
The standard child support guidelines do not cover many of the added costs and expenses that come with raising a child with disabilities. In addition to increased medical bills and out-of-pocket costs, the child may need special accommodations at home or at school. For example, the primary residential parent of a child requiring a wheel chair may need to remodel a bathroom or add a lift to the car in order to bathe or transport the child. While some of these expenses may be covered by insurance or other programs, many of these expenses will need to be shared between the parents.
When considering child support and the division of marital assets, both parents should consider what type of expenses the disabled child will have in the future. Child support orders can be difficult and time-consuming to change, so it is better to consider all possible future expenses at the time that the agreement is made.
Long-Term Medical Care
For children with serious medical conditions or disabilities, parents may have to deal with permanent or long-term expenses. These could include paying for a residential facility, live-in help if both parents need to work, or planning for the care of the child through adulthood if he or she is severely disabled.
These types of large expenses require extensive planning. Parents may need to set up trusts or apply for government benefits, and one parent may be required to be a full-time care giver. All of these options will affect child support and visitation arrangements, and former spouses will need to learn to work together to care for their child.
For some children with special needs, like those with autism, frequent changes and disruptions to their schedules may cause severe distress. In these situations, parents should consider moving away from traditional visitation schedules which require the child to see both parents on a weekly basis.
Instead, parents of special needs children should consider focusing on longer periods of uninterrupted visitation; for example, having the child spend the summer with one parent and the school year with the other. Alternatively, parents can consider working visitation time into the child’s normal routine, such as with weekly dinners or other outings.
Issues with SSI and Other Benefits
When a child is disabled, he or she is often eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, Medicaid benefits, or other government programs which will help allay the costs of his or her care. However, it is important to remember that these programs are often based on a child’s income. For instance, 2/3 of child support payments is currently counted as income for SSI benefits. If your child is receiving SSI, or is planning on applying for benefits in the future, it is important to structure the child support agreement in a way that does not make the child ineligible.
Special Needs Require Special Assistance
While the issues involved in the long-term care of a special needs child can be daunting, thousands of parents with disabled children manage successful divorces every year. Working with an experienced family law attorney is paramount to creating a divorce settlement and child support arrangement that will provide both for your needs and the needs of your children.
At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys know how complicated your life can be, and will help you protect your child’s future. For help with your situation, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.