Divorce & Children with Special Needs: What You Should Know

Very few things are more difficult than going through a divorce and having a child with special needs. When custody determinations or modifications and other family law matters involve children with disabilities, the decisions regarding the best interests of the child can often have heightened layers of complexity and strain. Here’s what you should know:

1. Determining Your Child’s Best Interests Is Challenging

Regardless of your situation, a child’s best interests are always going to be a challenge. However, disability and a child’s care needs make this aspect a bit more difficult to iron out. If you’re going through a divorce, you must carefully consider the following:

  • Who will the child live with?
  • How will child support be paid?
  • How much contact is each parent to have with the child?
  • What are the child’s care needs?
  • What is the cost of care for the child?

If both parents want to be equally involved in the raising of the child, a joint custody arrangement may be in the child's best interests. However, if one parent was the primary caregiver before the divorce, the courts may decide that it’s in the best interest of the child to live with that parent.

2. Child Custody and Visitation Is Unique

A typical visitation schedule may not work for a family with a special needs child since they often need structure, consistency and reliable routines. When you’re creating a visitation schedule you must consider the following:

  • Who’s picking up the child?
  • Will the child travel with other children?
  • Does special equipment need to be transported?

Additionally, both parents must be flexible, as health issues can easily disrupt visitation schedules from time to time. It may even be necessary for both parents to live in close proximity to the child's medical care provider.

3. Parenting Plan Must Be Detailed

A parenting plan is an important part of any divorce. However, in a divorce with a special needs child, it must be detailed enough to include the day-to-day care of the child, such as:

  • Diet
  • Behavior management
  • Medication
  • Adapting surroundings
  • Communication

4. You Must Make Financial Considerations

A child with special needs may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Child support payments and alimony must be structured around the child's benefits eligibility. Parents should work with a family law attorney and financial adviser to help reduce the risk of forfeiting the child’s benefits. If a child loses SSI, they may also lose Medicaid health care coverage.

If you’re going through a divorce and have a special needs child, please contact our Murrieta family lawyers at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich for a free consultation. For over a decade, we have been representing residents in Southern California in family law matters, and we are prepared to fight for you.

Call (951) 506-6654 or contact us online to get started towards a brighter tomorrow.


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