Raising children is difficult even under ideal circumstances. If you have a child with special needs, however, everything becomes more complicated – including divorce and related custody matters.
When the parents of special-needs kids get divorced, they must make important and often complex decisions such as where the child will live, how/where they will receive an education, how the parents will pay for their additional care needs, and what to do if the child cannot become fully independent upon reaching adulthood. Given the level of detail that must be worked out, a litigated divorce is not a practical option. Instead, the parents will likely want to pursue an alternative dispute resolution method like mediation or collaborative divorce.
Reaching agreement on child support and extraordinary costs
With a special-needs child, chances are good that standard child support calculations will be inadequate. Parents will likely need to negotiate to decide issues like:
- How much care support is needed (daycare, in-home health aides, supplemental educational professionals, specialized transportation assistance, etc.)
- Average monthly costs of medical care and how it should be allocated
- Which parent has access to the better health insurance plan and how premiums and coinsurance will factor into the support calculations
- Whether either parent’s earning potential will be limited by their additional care responsibilities
- Whether child support can end at age 18 or will need to go on indefinitely
Some of these issues will fall under the category of child support, while others are considered property division issues. In either case, negotiation is the most efficient resolution method.
Unique child custody concerns for special-needs children
Depending on the child’s diagnosis and related needs, divorcing parents must make decisions related to matters like:
- Whether each parent has a home suitable for the child’s needs
- Whether each parent has a flexible enough work schedule to provide care for the child
- Transporting the child between homes and coordinating medical appointments and other critical services
- Whether one or both parents will serve as a court-appointed guardian for the child when they turn 18
- Whether each parent is equipped to meet the unique emotional support needs the child may have as a result of their disability
Complex calculations like these are best worked out in an agreement between the parents with the help of their respective attorneys and in consultation with other professionals.
The benefits of mediation and collaborative divorce
Here’s why you should choose an alterative dispute resolution method if you have a special-needs child:
- These processes promote peaceful cooperation and collaboration, which are skills you will definitely need post-divorce
- They allow you to create a highly customized child custody and support plan to meet your family’s unique needs
- They make it possible to seek input from professionals other than lawyers, such as psychologists, financial planners and medical practitioners
- They are likely to be faster, cheaper and less stressful than litigated divorce
- They grant a greater sense of control over the outcome, which is feeling that is rare for parents of special-needs kids
Collaborative divorce and mediation share many similarities, but there are also some important differences between the two methods. An attorney with experience in both methods can help you determine which would be the most appropriate for your case.