Special Concerns for Divorces Involving Kids with Special Needs
Divorce is hard for almost all children. It can be traumatic and confusing in even the best of circumstances. But for children with special needs, divorce can be even more difficult. And for the parents of special needs children, divorce requires strategizing to make sure that arrangements are made to adequately address the children’s ongoing and future physical, emotional, and financial needs.
As with all decisions involving children during divorce, the best interests of the child are paramount. The child’s abilities and capacity will play a significant role in determining what arrangements will be in those best interests. While the child’s needs can affect almost every aspect of custody, visitation, and support, parents of special needs children should pay particular attention to these three issues:
- Disruption caused by custody and visitation. Many special needs children heavily rely on routine and familiarity. Regular disruptions in schedules, surroundings, activities, or other arrangements can be particularly challenging and upsetting for the child. When making decisions as to when and how often the child will be moved from place to place and between parental custody, care needs to be taken to minimize the negative impact of such disruptions and transitions.
- Providing for the child’s financial needs. Families with special needs may be entitled to an array of public benefits such as SSI or Medicaid designed to assist them with the challenges of caring for their child. The availability and amount of such benefits can be impacted by child support determinations. Additionally, the child will have medical, therapeutic and practical needs that need to be addressed will into their adulthood. Special needs trusts are one way that parents can maximize the resources available for their child while ensuring that there are sufficient assets available for their child’s care well into the future.
- Guardianship. As noted, the roles of parents in the lives of a special needs child remain significant and involved long after the child turns 18. The parents should agree on who will have the authority to make decisions involving their adult child if he or she is unable to make such decisions themselves. They should nominate agreed-upon guardians of their child in their wills to provide for their care in the event that either or both of them pass away.
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