Divorce Involving Special Needs Children
Every divorce is unique and requires careful planning. This is especially true of a divorce when you have a special needs child. Families who have children with special needs, such as autism, down syndrome, traumatic brain injury, ADHD, or any other disability that impairs the child’s cognitive or physical capabilities require and deserve some special consideration treatment by the Los Angeles divorce courts. Unfortunately, many will receive the same basic treatment as other divorce cases. California family law courts don’t have special procedures in place for handling families that are disintegrating due to the significant demands placed on them for having children with special needs. Frequently, divorce mediation is the best route to pursue in these types of divorce cases because parents are typically on good terms, but often just too emotionally and physically drained to put up an argument over the fine details. Clearly, parents with kids that have special needs have enormous distractions from their daily responsibilities. Some of the main key issues that need to be addressed during the divorce process in Los Angeles regarding special needs child include physical custody, legal custody, child support, and medical/life insurance. Is your divorce complicated due to issues for having a child with special needs? Due to their disability, are there controversial issues involving spousal support, child support, child custody, visitation or medical decisions? Do you have specific concerns regarding the dollar amount of spousal support and child support? Is your divorce case complex because of custodial and support needs of an adult disabled child? If any of these issues need to be addressed during your divorce process, you need to consult with the Los Angeles divorce lawyers at Furman & Zavatsky LLP. We can help you.
Judges will need more information before they can make a child custody and child support determinations. Before filing for divorce, you should meet with our Los Angeles divorce attorneys to discuss the following topic below.
How will Custody be Divided?
Many children with special needs benefit from routine. For example, a child on the autism spectrum might have a hard time with transitions and sudden changes. You should think through who will have physical custody and who will have visitation (called “parenting time”). Remember to create a visitation schedule the non-custodial parent can stick to so that you can minimize disruption.
Ultimately, custody decisions are made by a judge based on the best interests of your child. A thoughtful, detailed parenting plan will help the judge set custody and visitation. Consider the following:
- When will the non-custodial parent have custody? How will holidays be divided? Summer vacations?
- How will each parent transport their child to and from visitation?
- Does either parent intend to move? How far? Will this move impact the visitation schedule?
- Will either parent take on new job responsibilities that cut into their free time? Do you know the schedule now? When will you know?
Developing a visitation schedule you can follow will ease your child’s transition considerably. Parents should strive to reach this agreement voluntarily instead of leaving it to the judge to decide. Call our law firm for additional information.
How Much Child Support is Required?
To determine child support in most divorces, Los Angeles family law court judges use a formula that is based on how much the non-custodial parent makes. However, special needs children usually require more resources than other children. For example, your child might require:
- Physical therapy
- Speech therapy
- Behavioral therapy
- Adjustments to your car or home
- Psychiatric or psychological treatment
- In-home care
- Medical equipment and assistive devices
- Respite care
- Special education
When determining child support, a judge can depart from the formula and award additional sums to subsidize the additional costs of a special needs child. You should provide your Los Angeles divorce lawyer with receipts and bills so that you can accurately estimate the amount of money you will need.
Will One Parent Pay Spousal Support?
Although the judge will probably award child support, a thorough review of the custodial parent’s finances might reveal that child support is insufficient. For example, one parent might need to stay at home full-time to take care of their child and need additional income. Fortunately, spousal support (alimony) is available.
Gather the following financial information to show your Los Angeles divorce lawyer:
- The amount of work you missed to take care of your child’s medical needs
- Your weekly wage
- Costs of medical transportation
Your divorce lawyer will review this information and consider whether it supports a request for spousal support and how much.
Can I Participate in Decisions about my Child’s Education?
Yes. Both parents can have joint legal custody, meaning they have the right to make decisions about medical care, religious upbringing, and education. You can have legal custody even if you do not have primary physical custody of your child. As part of your parenting plan, you can require the other parent to share information with you about your child’s health and education so that you aren’t left out of the loop. Talk to your divorce attorney about any concerns you have surrounding your child’s education.
What if My Child Receives Government Benefits?
If your child receives government benefits like Supplement Security Income (SSI), you should consider how alimony and child support will affect their eligibility. Some government benefits are “means tested” and depend on your income. Many parents fail to consider this factor, which can reduce your ability to receive needed services while your child is under 18.
You also must consider estate planning issues. Before you know it, your child will be 18 and possibly eligible for additional government benefits depending on their disability. You should plan carefully for how to maximize their income in adulthood. For example, when you die, your child might lose government benefits if they inherit money or property from you. But if you create a special needs trust, then certain income won’t be counted, and your child can continue to receive payments from the government.
Contact our Los Angeles Divorce Lawyers
Our Los Angeles divorce attorneys understand the unique issues involving a special needs child and we know how California law can be applied for the benefit of you and your child. For example, in some circumstances, child support for a disabled child can continue beyond the age of 18. This means that a special needs child could receive additional child support payments. As your family law attorney, we are here to aggressively protect your rights, as well as the best interest of your children. Let’s face facts, divorce is usually hard on children, but proper planning can minimize the disruption as much as possible. At Furman & Zavatsky, we work closely with parents of special needs children to ensure they plan properly for the future. Contact us for a free consultation at 818-528-3471.