Having a child who has special needs can take its toll on a marriage. If you find yourself facing divorce and have a child or children who have special needs, there are some areas you will need to focus on working out during the divorce, besides the standard divisions of assets.
Articulating what you both think your child’s abilities and needs are
The best place to start is to be clear that you both agree on what the child can and cannot do for themselves and the degree of assistance or care they will need. This will cover the additional help needed at home, school or with counselors.
Choosing who the child will live with
Deciding on who gets custody of the child, and whether it will be sole custody or joint custody, are hard decisions to make even with kids who don’t have special needs. When you factor in the unique needs of a special needs child, this decision becomes even more critical to the well being of the child. it will be important to put your child first when you decide on where he or she will stay. For a child with autism for instance, pulling them out of a familiar environment will make an already difficult situation harder. Try and work it out so that the parent who will be responsible for the child stays on in the family home. Don’t shift neighborhoods if you can avoid it, so they continue going to the same school and are not uprooted from a familiar social circle.
Working out a plan for adulthood
With special needs kids, the need for parental support may last well into their adult years. Provisions must be made for the emotional and financial well being of the child and decisions made on what happens once the child becomes an adult. Insurance plans may also be needed to offer them additional protection in the event of the death of the primary caregiving parent.
Alimony, child support, and public benefits
While working out alimony and child support, keep in mind that your child may need financial support even as an adult, in some cases this is a lifelong need. You will also have costs related to additional care, counseling or special medical treatment. However, you may also be eligible for public benefits.
Work through what happens in the event you or your ex pass away. How will the estate be handled? Will there be someone appointed to oversee managing the estate? Work out these details to ensure you secure future for your child who may need to live off their inheritance from you and your ex. Detail what happens should either of you remarry and have kids.
Wherever possible try and consult with a divorce attorney familiar with special needs cases. They will be able to guide you on the role of Medicaid or SSI, special needs trusts and other benefits that apply to your situation, to ensure the best outcome for you, your spouse and your special needs child.
Gerald A. Maggio is an experienced Orange County divorce and family law attorney and family law attorney located in Irvine, California, serving the Orange County and Riverside areas. Mr. Maggio assists clients with legal issues including divorce, legal separation, divorce mediation, child custody, prenuptial agreements, stepparent adoptions, and other family law issues. Mr. Maggio has practiced law in California since 1999, and founded The Maggio Law Firm in 2005, focusing exclusively on divorce and family law matters.