Getting Divorced When You Have a Special Needs Child

iStock_000026294630XSmallWhen married couples with kids decide to divorce, child-related issues related to child custody, parenting time, and child support take center stage. New Jersey family law makes it clear that decisions made during divorce regarding children must put the “best interests of the child” first. Determining any child’s best interests can be a challenge. But when a couple’s divorce involves a child with a chronic illness, autism, physical or learning disability, or other special needs? Suddenly, determining “best interests” can easily become complicated.

If you are getting divorced and wondering how your child’s special needs will be addressed in custody and support determinations, here are three key pieces of information you don’t want to be without.

Getting Expert Help: When considering the best custody arrangements for a special needs child, family law attorneys and the courts often consult with family therapists. This is usually a therapist familiar with the child, and special needs in general. Following evaluation, the therapist can make recommendations to assist parties in creating a child custody/parenting time plan that takes into account possible issues such as separation anxiety on the part of the child, rigidity in adapting to change, and/or other personal or psychological issues. Depending on the child’s needs, consultation with the child’s physician or medical care team may also be appropriate for gathering needed information.

Explore Special Needs Trusts: As for matters of child support, an avenue divorcing parents of children with special needs frequently explore is setting up a “special needs trust.” A trust is able to provide not only for current support payments, but can also address the future needs of a child, including payment for health and educational costs, and food, shelter, clothing and transportation…all the way through adulthood. Having a trust in place can also assist special needs children to qualify for more aid-based programs (both state and federal). Your family law attorney can give you more information about how to set one up.

Impact on Other Divorce Issues: A child’s special needs can affect several other aspects of a divorce settlement. For example, if one parent stays home with the child to provide care for the child’s special needs, this may be included as a factor in determining alimony duration. Likewise, if parents must negotiate division of the family home, they may take into consideration ease of accessibility of the current home (i.e., if a child uses a wheelchair) or how well the child would cope emotionally with moving to a new home.

Getting help early on in your divorce is one of the most effective ways for ensuring that your child’s needs are fully appreciated and taken into consideration. Our attorneys are here to help. To speak confidentially about your matter, please contact us to schedule your initial attorney consultation.